Matt, Mike, Martha and the kids, along with Breakers the moocher, were in the kitchen finishing up breakfast about 8 a.m. the Saturday morning after Jeff and Martha had arrived. Matt and Mike, discharging their big-brotherly duty, grilled Martha about school and how her experience working for the local veterinarian back home in Pennsylvania had turned out the previous Summer. The upshot was that she'd had a good Summer and was having a great year in school. She was on the Dean's List, along with Jeff, and was still determined to become a veterinarian.
When the conversation slowed, she said, "By the way, I wanted to tell you that Father David is coming over for dinner tonight."
"Really!" Mike said, surprised. "He doesn't usually go out on Saturday nights 'cause Sundays are such a heavy workday for him. You must be very persuasive, Mart."
"I don't know about that," she said, smiling. "But I thought it would be a good chance for all of us to do a little planning for your wedding while Jeff and I are here. You're gonna be more under the gun during Thanksgiving week when the whole family comes down."
Matt grinned at his sister. "It's great to have our own wedding planner in the family! You're prolly right, though. Why don't we all sit down for a few minutes after dinner tonight and look at some of the options for the service?"
"Cool," Mike said. "Matt, what would you think about asking Linda and Stan to stand up with us along with Jeff and Martha? They've done so much for us and for the boys. I'd like to make them a part of this."
"Excellent!" Matt said. "I like it. And I had another thought. Why don't we ask Mary to join Mom and Dad in formally giving us to each other at the altar? She's kind of kept our little family here on an even keel. She's such an important part of our lives, doncha think?"
"That sounds right to me!" Mike said. "I'm starting to get more excited about this all the time!"
He spontaneously reached across the table and touched Matt's face gently, just momentarily, and smiled into his eyes. Since Matt had been stabbed and survived and they'd had their watershed discussion on the nature of love and why their partnership would endure, Mike had become increasingly demonstrative about his feelings. Noticeably so. Any reservations he'd ever had about showing his partner how much he loved him in front of other people seemed to have taken flight for good. And Matt ate it up.
But Mike's new demeanor wasn't just with family. His anguished thoughts while Matt had been teetering between life and death, and what he had absorbed when Matt had "reoriented" him with respect to their relationship, had obviously taken root on a wider basis. Much of his former reserve had gone by the boards, and while he was by no means "hail fellow, well met," he exhibited a new openness in all his relationships.
"Guys, I haven't had a chance before now to tell you how thrilled I am for you about your wedding," Martha said, looking at her brothers with affection. "This has been a long time in the making, and nobody deserves a blessing on their relationship more than you two. You already know how happy Mom and Dad are for you. We all are. This is gonna be just great! I'm really looking forward to it!"
"Thanks, Mart," Matt said as Mike covered their sister's hand with his.
"By the way, Jeff does know that he's standing up for you, doesn't he?"
Matt and Mike looked at each other.
"Did you ask him?" they asked each other simultaneously.
"No," they both answered together.
Jeff, in bathrobe and slippers, came shuffling into the kitchen right then, looking tired but happy.
"'Morning," he grunted with half a smile.
Matt couldn't resist. "'Morning, Jeff. You look a little the worse for wear. Something keep you up late last night?"
Jeff pretended not to hear him.
"Uh, Mike," he said, "can I make Andie and me some breakfast? I thought I'd surprise her with breakfast in bed."
"I'll do it, Jeff," Mike offered. "I know where everything is. What would you like?"
"Scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice, I guess. Coffee. Bacon, maybe. If ya got any salsa, throw some in the eggs, will ya? She likes that."
"Comin' up. Sit down and have some juice."
Jeff sat down and poured some orange juice from a plastic container in the middle of the table into an empty glass. He took a swallow and, ever the clown, smacked his lips extra loudly while looking right at the three little boys. "Yum!" he told them, deadpan.
Matthew, ignoring his uncle's theatrics with the orange juice, asked him, "Uncle Jeff, will you swim with us today?".
"Yeah," Kyle said, "we need to get in some more practice."
"Ya do, huh?" Jeff said, amused. "I don't know. I hear you guys are pretty good swimmers already."
"Well, we have a long way to go," Michael said seriously. "We need practice."
"Don't we all, Michael, don't we all!" Jeff said.
"Uncle Jeff is only gonna be here for a couple days, guys," Matt said. "He may have some other stuff he hasta do."
The three kids looked at each other, and then contemplated Jeff again with big, blue eyes.
"I think we can work in some pool time," Jeff said. "Maybe this afternoon, huh?"
"Yaaaaa!" the boys yelled. "What time?" Michael asked.
"I'll let ya know, OK," Jeff said. "Andie may want to swim with us, too."
Martha couldn't stand it any longer. "Jeff, did you know Matt and Mike were gonna ask us you and me to stand up with them at their wedding?" she asked.
"No," he told her, breaking into a big smile and looking at Matt and Mike. "For real?"
"Yeah," Matt said. "Will you?"
"I'll have to check my busy schedule, gentlemen," Jeff said, followed by an extended pause. "I can prolly make it, I s'pose," he said finally. "How about you, Mart?"
"Sometimes I'd like to smack you, Jeff!" Martha said. "Of course we'll do it!"
"Yeah, we'll do it. Thanks for asking us." Jeff grinned and poured himself some more orange juice. His robe was open at the chest, showing the top of his abs, and Matt checked him out.
"Jeff, do I see the hint of an eight pack, you rat?" Matt asked.
"That's no hint, dude, that's the real thing! I've been workin' out at the gym five days a week, and it's paid off. You're lookin' at the results of about thirty thousand crunches."
"Well, lookin' good, man!" Matt said. "I need to get back to exercising once I'm healed up."
"'Healed up' being the operative words, bro," Mike interjected. looking concerned.
"Conditioning has made a big difference for me on the baseball field, fer sure," Jeff said. "I can field some hits that would have been impossible to get before I got serious in the gym. And my hitting has really improved, too."
"You've kinda left Mike and me in the dust," Matt admitted.
"I don't know how you guys get done everything you do, let alone work out," Jeff said. "You both look pretty good yet for old guys, though."
"Put something awful in Jeff's part of those eggs," Matt instructed Mike. "He just dissed us."
"I heard!" Mike said from the stove, shaking his head. "Ah, the arrogance of youth."
"Jeff, ask Andie if she wants to go down to the Loop with Linda and me this afternoon, will ya?" Martha asked. "We want to go to the Art Institute, and then maybe do some shopping. Andie needs some time away from you, anyway. Lots of time, really. Maybe she'll come to her senses."
"Ask her yourself. But I'm chaining her to my side while I'm here, so I doubt if she'll go."
Martha just smiled. After Father Howard had left the previous evening, she and Andie had settled down for a long, get-acquainted talk, and really bonded. Martha felt as if they were kindred spirits, like Andie was the sister she'd never had.
"She'll go," she said confidently. "Good luck with dominating that girl, Mr. Macho! You've met your match this time. Anyway, you should do some 'guy things' with your brothers and the kids this afternoon," she instructed.
She and Jeff continued with their gentle wrangling until Mike finished preparing Jeff's and Andie's breakfast.
"Here ya are, Jeff," Mike said. He finished buttering some toast and putting steaming scrambled eggs with salsa on plates, along with strips of crisp bacon. Covering the plates with plastic wrap, he put them on a tray with the toast, silverware, glasses of orange juice and two cups of coffee, along with a sugar bowl and creamer. Jeff was good to go.
"Jeff, wait," Matt said. He walked over to a kitchen cabinet, removed a little crystal bud vase, put some water in it, and placed it on the tray. "Mary has fresh roses on the table in the foyer. Pick out a nice bud and put it in here for Andie."
"Thanks, guys," Jeff beamed. "I really appreciate this. See you in awhile." He stood, picked up the tray and made his exit.
"Remember, Uncle Jeff, we gotta swim..." Kyle reminded him as he left.
Jeff laughed. "I'm remembering," he said.
After stopping in the foyer and picking out a little yellow rosebud for the vase, he went back to his room. Putting the tray down on the bedside table, he contemplated the beautiful young woman in his bed before waking her.
He leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. "You're so beautiful I can't stand it," he told her as her eyes popped open. "I brought us breakfast in bed."
When she saw the rose and the food, Andie sat up in bed with a smile that warmed his heart.
* * *
Matt and Mike cleaned up the kitchen after everyone had eaten, and just as they finished, Linda and Stan walked in. The couple took charge of the kids, and Mike followed Matt back to their bedroom. Matt sat down on the bed, leaned back on his arms and contemplated Mike as the latter fired up his computer to check his email. Matt saw over Mike's shoulder that the day's catch was two legitimate messages from med school buddies and a slew of ads for porn sites.
"So, you been hittin' the porn pretty hard, huh?" Matt asked.
"Hard? You're my private porn star, and you're all I need to make me hard, bud," Mike said cheerfully, turning in his chair and pointing at the bed. "Right here on our stage!!"
Mike turned back and read the emails, deleted the ads, and shut down the computer. Going over to Matt, he gently pushed him back on the bed and lay down next to him on his side, free arm across Matt's midsection, snuggling up and kissing his partner's neck. He fought off the urge to give him the hickey of the century.
"I love you like there's no tomorrow. When you think about it, there almost wasn't. Fortunately, you're tough and stubborn and hard to kill. Thank God for that!"
"Mike, at the risk of repeating myself, you had a little something to do with my still being around, y'know."
"Not a lot. Thank Breakers."
"Breakers did his thing. But you never taught him how to do surgery on the beach, bud."
"How do you know? He has talented paws."
"Not as talented as your paws." Taking Mike's free hand, Matt placed it on his crotch. Mike's fingers flexed gently, feeling Matt's equipment, and then he stopped.
"I have a story for ya," Mike said out of the blue with a goofy grin.
"What!!!???" Matt exclaimed. "I don't believe this!"
"Believe it! I've come over to the dark side on the humor thing."
"Well then, lay it on me!" Matt said, smiling in disbelief.
"OK. It seems the National Poetry Contest had come down to two
semifinalists - a Yale graduate and a redneck from Georgia. They were
given a word, then allowed two minutes to study the word and come
up with a poem that contained the word. The word they were given
"The Yale graduate was first to recite his poem. He stepped confidently
to the microphone and said:
"'Slowly across the desert sand,
Trekked a lonely caravan,
Men on camels, two by two,
"The crowd went crazy! No way could the redneck top that, they
But the redneck calmly made his way to the microphone and recited:
"'Me and Tim a huntin' went,
Met three whores in a pop-up tent,
They was three, and we was two,
So I bucked one, and Timbuktu.'"
"Not bad, Mikey," Matt said, laughing as he reached over and caressed the bulge in his partner's Levi's.
Lifting his head, Mike propped himself up on one arm and looked into his brother's eyes. "Before we get all horned up, and I realize you have an especially low horn threshold, I wanna talk to you seriously. Let's take a little walk on the beach. You need some exercise. We can talk down there."
"This isn't something I won't wanna hear, is it?"
"No. What do you always ask me that when I say I want to talk?"
"Because if it's harmless, you usually just work it into the conversation."
"No, I think you'll like this," Mike promised. "I have been kinda waiting 'til you felt better before we talked because I didn't want to bother you with it."
"OK, then. Let me brush my teeth, and we're outta here."
Matt stood up went into their bathroom. Mike followed, and they brushed their teeth side by side, watching each other in the mirror, both mugging at each other and grinning like idiots, suds from the toothpaste on their lips. Occasionally they pretended to bump or nudge one another accidentally, and then mock apologized, just feeling good.
On the way out, they stopped in the den, where Linda and Stan were watching TV while the kids worked on their latest interminable lego project.
"Linda and Stan," Mike said, "Matt and I would like to ask you to stand with us at our wedding along with Jeff and Martha, if you'd do that."
The young couple got up from the couch, wreathed in surprised smiles, and came over and hugged each of them, being careful not to squeeze Matt too tight.
"I'm totally astonished," Stan said, looking at his fiancée'. "Linda?"
"We'd love to!" Linda said. "Thank you. I do feel we're really part of this family."
"You are, you know," Matt said, giving first her a kiss on the cheek and then Stan, who again looked surprised, but pleased. "You're our brother and sister. We don't say it enough, but we love you both, and don't you ever forget it."
"Thanks, guys, we feel the same," Stan said. When he and Linda turned back to the couch, Linda had tears in her eyes.
"Father David is coming for dinner tonight, and if you don't have other plans, we're all gonna get together afterward and talk about the wedding, 'K?" Mike said.
"We'll be here," Stan said, still looking pleased about his new wedding duties.
Matt and Mike slipped on windbreakers and headed for the foyer with Breakers, leashing him and then taking the elevator downstairs. When they reached the first floor, Dominic the day doorman was on duty at the front desk. It was a Saturday. Usually he was off on Saturdays and Sundays. They stopped to talk with him for a few minutes.
"Dom, how's it going?" Matt asked.
"Fine, Mr. Broman. How are you doing? Pete the night guy told me about you getting hurt down on the beach, and I read about it in the papers, of course. What a world! Are you healing up all right?"
"What's this 'Mr. Broman' shit?" Matt asked. "It's Matt and Mike to you! Anyway, my recovery's been slow but sure. I really want to get back to running, but we're just goin' for a walk right now. My first walk on the beach since...you know."
"Well, I'm glad everything came out well for ya, er, Matt," Dom said. "It just takes time."
"Dom, how's the family?" Mike asked, and the portly doorman's face fell.
"A few bumps in the road," Dom said. "My wife Anna had some female problems and had to have surgery, and now the insurance company won't pay. We took it through their appeals process and everything, but they're calling it 'unapproved elective surgery' even though she had to have it. There are some pretty big bills, and I've got two kids in college and one in high school yet. So it's gonna be awhile before I see the light of day again financially. I'm working some extra days, though, and we'll make it. She's all right now, and that's the main thing."
"I'm sorry, Dom," Mike said. "You hold a good thought, though. Maybe the insurance people will have a change of heart. What hospital was she in?"
"University of Chicago. Well, if the insurance people do change their mind, that would be great, but as long as the wife and kids are all right, I'm not gonna be too upset, Mike," Dom said. "It's only money."
"Good to see ya, Dom," Matt said as he and his brother moved toward the door. "Take care."
"Thanks, guys. You have a good walk."
The two young men crossed the yard on the flagstone path in front of the condo and headed toward the stairs down to the beach. It was a warm day for late October, almost November. The sky was a bright blue, and little, puffy cumulus clouds were scudding west from a brisk breeze off the lake. It was a perfect late-Fall day.
"I'm gonna look into Dom's situation," Mike said as they descended the steps. "If the insurance company really won't pay, I'm gonna take care of it. Unfortunately, there are thousands of people in this country who need affordable care and can't get it."
"He prolly won't take the money," Matt speculated.
"If I handle it right, he won't know anything about it," Mike responded.
"Mike, what's gotten into you lately? You've always been a caring person. But lately you just seem...different. In a good way, I mean."
"I'll tell you about it when we talk. First, the walk. We'll 'walk the walk,' and then we'll 'talk the talk.' Hehe. Promise me, though, that if you feel the least bit tired, or start feeling any discomfort in your chest, you'll let me know, OK?"
"You mean, let you know right away?" Matt asked mischievously.
"You know exactly what I mean, dufus!" Mike said. "Now, shut up and walk!"
They walked the equivalent of a couple of blocks down the beach at a good pace with Breakers expecting them to segue into a run at any time, but of course they didn't.
It was uncharacteristic for the two young men when they were in public, but they held hands as they walked, swinging their arms, with blasé Chicagoans on the beach passing them by and not even giving them a second look.
The dog whined when Matt and Mike turned back toward the condo, but obeyed his lead perfectly.
About halfway back, they ambled in among the huge rocks along the shoreline and found a flat rock to sit on which was in the sun but sheltered a bit from the cool wind off the lake. They sat down on the rock, legs crossed, facing each other, with Breakers lying down quietly in the sand below them.
"All right, bud, what's on your mind?" Matt asked, still a little apprehensive.
"I told you, nothing bad. It's just that I did a lot of thinking after you were stabbed and while you've been recuperating, and I want you to know what I've been thinking about," Mike said seriously.
"Uh, well, when you got hurt, I started giving our partnership a lot of thought. Y'know, every now and then people get a wake-up call, and your getting stabbed was one for me. But you got my attention even more when we talked about our partnership after you got home from the hospital. The first thing I concluded was that even if my 'complaints' about some of your failures to communicate in this relationship were valid, it was still pretty chickenshit stuff. How I could ever have thought that what you did or didn't communicate about the threat on your life was somehow a betrayal of our relationship just mystifies me at this point. I must have been nuts. I know I was nuts. And you set me straight in such a beautiful way, Matt. I'll never forget what you said, and I'll never stop loving you for it."
Matt said nothing. He picked up one of Mike's hands from his brother's lap and held it, strong and warm, in his own. Mike scooted closer and continued to talk.
"I've really tried to step back and look at us and what we have together objectively. One of my conclusions is that, as individuals, we're a little too driven for our own good and for the good of our family when it comes to pursuing career goals. I know we're both hard workers in school. We always have been. And that's good. But I think that sometimes we neglect ourselves and our relationship more than is healthy for us. I've been thinking we need to take a look at that issue together, and decide if we don't need to set aside more time just for ourselves and for the family and nothing else. I'm not saying that we should start to blow off our school responsibilities. Don't think that. We've worked hard so we could attain good class standings and become proficient at what we're going to be doing in life. I'm not sorry about that. But we need to get our nose up off the grindstone more than we have in the past."
Mike took a deep breath, and then continued.
"So, if you agree with me about that, I think instead of heading right back to classes on the Monday after our wedding, we should go out to Aspen on a little honeymoon and ski for a few days. You won't be completely healed at that point, but if we stick to some of the easier hills, you'll be all right. The bunny hill should be perfect for you. Heh. I've been checking the paper for the snowfall at Snowmass, and they're well ahead of last year on precipitation. They have a start on a good base already. We have a nice condo that's been sitting there unused for a long time now. We could use this trip to mark a tremendous milestone in our lives. Does that sound like a plan?"
"Man, it's a great idea! What you've said makes good sense, Mike. You've obviously given it a lot of thought, and you're absolutely right about everything you've said. I'm only sorry I didn't think of it first. So, for starters, let's make the reservations and go."
"I was hoping you'd say that. We just need to lighten up a little, y'know, and I think we can do that without blowing everything we've achieved. Now, there's still something else I need to talk with you about." Mike paused self-consciously.
"I want to change the way I relate to people, and you're the best person in the world to help me do that."
"What the hell are you talking about? I don't think you need to change anything about yourself!" Matt said emphatically.
"Yeah, I do. You know that I've always been more reserved around other people than you have. And I've concluded that's because I haven't made as much of an effort to to do good for people the way you always have. Family, yes. Up 'til now I've just focused on my family and friends and taken care of them. Outsiders, not so much. I've sort of felt it's every person for himself when it comes to strangers. I want you to help me learn how to think more positively about other people and how to show them that I care about them. Things are ugly out there in this world, and a lot of people have no one to care about them. I promised God after you were attacked that if you survived and recovered, I'd try to be a better person, at least in this respect. You lived, and I'm gonna honor my promise, but I need your help. When you got stabbed, it was a defining moment in my life, a terrible one, but a defining one. So it's important for me to do this. Will you help me?"
Matt looked at his brother with a mixture of love and disbelief. "I'm complimented, fer sure, that you think I'm somehow capable of helping you do this, but I'm surprised you think you need to change. You're a beautiful, generous, kind, warm hearted person to everybody you meet, Mike. And you're brave and you're persistent. All these things were a major turn-on for me back in college, once I got to know you. So I don't understand..."
"Look, I don't wanna sound like a sap, but I want to be more like you, Matt. You're the most caring individual I've ever known in my life, and people sense that the minute they meet you. With you, nobody's a stranger for long. I want to be like that, I want to care more about others, and if I can do it, I will have kept my promise to God. I know we're not supposed to bargain with God, but to be frank, I did, and He came through for me...for us. So anyway, this has been on my mind for a while now."
Matt shook his head in wonder and smiled. "This is kind of funny, really, because I've always had it in my head that I wanted to be more like you--less 'in your face' with others, more gentle in the way I communicate with the people who mean the most to me, more quiet and less volatile, more conscientious, maybe more disciplined in my emotions. I admire you so much. This whole conversation blows me away!"
"I don't think you need to change a thing, Matt. I hope you won't change a thing about yourself, and certainly not on my account. I'm the luckiest man in the world to have you just the way you are. So, will you help me?" Mike asked.
"Anything you want from me, you get, Mike, you know that. Do you have any thoughts on how I can do that?"
"Well, having watched how you relate to people over the years, I think I already know some of the essentials. I'm sure that one way I can do better is to push myself to be more friendly with others from the get-go, make more of an effort to communicate with people and get to know them. I don't think I've ever put as much into that as you have. I'm just hoping you'll reinforce me in this. You can tell me if I'm not doing what I should. I'm serious about it."
"I know you are." Matt sighed. "Just as long as you remember that people already think the world of you, Mike. If I'd give you half a chance to talk more and give people a chance to know you better instead of kinda dominating every conversation, they'd like you even more, I'm sure of that."
"Deal, then?" Mike asked expectantly.
"Deal! And now I have something to run by you."
"Let's have it," Mike said with a smile.
"I've been thinking about what we're gonna do after we graduate. Or at least what I'm gonna do, professionally speaking, when I'm outta law school. In a way, this relates to what we were talking about earlier, about having been a little too driven, maybe. I know I can follow the usual career path for a young lawyer. You know, clerk for a prominent judge and join a large law firm and make a lot of money, pick a specialty, and eventually make partner--the whole smear. The usual career-track thing. It's the American way. Or, maybe I can do something really useful."
"Well, you know how much Brandon's death hurt me, and it's continued to bother me," Matt continued. "I can't shake it off. I've been thinking about all the kids in this city who are homeless, a lot of them gay and in deep trouble. My dream is to put together a comprehensive social center in the same neighborhood Hospice is in. There are a lot of deserted factories over there that could be torn down to make way for something useful. Anyway, the social center of my dreams would have a counseling component to help kids with family and sexual orientation and educational problems. There could also be some separate residential facilities, one for homeless boys and one for homeless girls, one for homeless families and one for adult singles, and a free neighborhood medical clinic, and an office for legal assistance because Congress has cut Legal Aid funds to the bone, and maybe we could integrate Hospice into this whole complex. I don't know, maybe St. Stephen's could take a leading role in a new corporation involving the Roman Catholic archdiocese and the Episcopal diocese. Obviously, I haven't figured out all the details yet. I'm sure it can't happen all at once. I also know that financially I probably can't do all this alone, but if you'd partner with me, I think we could be successful. I'm not trying to co-opt your career as a doctor, but I sure do need your business smarts."
Mike sat there holding hands with his brother, at a loss for words. "You've been thinking about this since Brandon?" he finally asked.
"Since Brandon," Matt confirmed. "Ya know, we're urban guys, Mike. We like big cities, and well-off people like us thrive in cities like Chicago because we're in a little cocoon. But I think we both understand that the good things, the good opportunities, aren't evenly distributed to human beings sometimes, especially in big cities. Big city life coupled with being dirt poor and isolated, especially when you're young and don't know who you are or where you belong, can be a terrible curse. It seems like that to me, anyway. Maybe we can view things from that perspective and change things a little, y'think?"
Tears sprang to Mike's eyes, not the norm for him. His emotions had generally been deeper and more muted.
"Just when I think I know everything about you and what you're thinking, you blindside me!" he said. "What a great concept, Matt! Seriously, I'm in awe! You know how to dream big and think big, that's for sure. You're like Mom and Dad that way, I guess. I think it's a marvelous idea! I love it! I want to help make it work."
They kissed gently and held each other as they sat in the bright October sun on top of that flat rock on the beach. Eventually, waking Breakers who had fallen asleep, they walked back to the condo with their arms around each other's waists, enjoying their physical and emotional closeness, thankful to have each other.
* * *
A few hours previous, back in Washington, D.C., Jane Broman had awakened and snuggled up to her husband. They were lying in bed longer than usual on a Saturday morning because they had had a late night, having attended a concert at the Kennedy Center followed by a late supper.
She always thoroughly enjoyed the time the two of them spent together, and hated the enforced absences from one another when she went back to Pennsylvania. She was usually in D.C. three days a week, but it never seemed enough. Her work was prospering, and she was happy about that. At this point in her career, she was recognized as one of the premier designers of fine jewelry in the world, a fact that gave both her and her husband a great deal of satisfaction. And she loved what she did. She just couldn't tolerate the separations.
She often wondered how long Matthew could, or should, keep up the pace required of a Supreme Court justice. The load had worsened even since his appointment. Her husband had told her that the court was now granting certiorari to over 10,000 cases a year, up from less than 2,000 not all that many years ago. There was talk of asking Congress to create a new appeals court to interface between the circuit courts of appeal and the Supreme Court, a move which presumably would take some of the pressure off the high court. But the Chief Justice had not yet made any formal request of Congress.
Jane continually worried about her husband's health. All his physical exams had been good, but she knew he ate on the fly at work during the day, and when she wasn't in town probably didn't eat a healthy meal at night. And she didn't think he was exercising properly. He had a treadmill in one corner of their bedroom at the Watergate, used only occasionally. When she was in town, she made sure they walked two miles a night at a good pace, weather permitting. Even though Matthew had been an accomplished athlete in high school and college, the benefits of that were no guarantee of good health if you didn't keep up at least some level of exercise as you aged.
She thought back to their college years. She knew it seemed trite to some in today's world, but it had pretty much been "love at first sight" for them in school. They had been freshmen, and Matthew had started to make quite a reputation for himself as an athlete in football and wrestling, as well as being no stranger at parties, always accompanied by some of the most beautiful girls on campus. Back then, you could pledge a fraternity your first year, which Matthew did. Jane Hagerty had also accepted a bid to a sorority, although both she and Matthew continued to live in their respective dorms until they moved to their orders' houses as sophomores.
The first time they had set eyes on one another had been at a freshman mixer at Matt's fraternity. Jane's petite figure with all the curves in the right places, and her coal-black hair setting off a beautiful face had caught Matt's eye immediately, and he had asked her to dance. They were both accomplished dancers, and looked good together. Matthew had been smitten, Jane enamored but more deliberate in letting her feelings be known. She really hadn't wanted to get serious with anyone with four years of college ahead of her, but Matt had been persistent in asking her out until she finally accepted on a fairly regular basis. And of course they'd had a great time together. She'd found the man to be gentlemanly, polite, refined and respectful. And a lot of fun. He had a joke, usually a clean joke, for every occasion, and seemed always to be in a good mood. People gravitated to him personally and in his position as a student leader. Based upon their initial attraction, over time Jane and Matt had developed deep feelings for one another, until by their junior year there wasn't anyone else even on the horizon for either of them.
Their backgrounds were similar. The Hagerty patriarch was a well known attorney, although a controlled alcoholic. Matthew's father was in railroads and land acquisition, a man with no vices. The Bromans owned a beautiful estate in Pennsylvania, and the Hagertys divided their time between homes in Philadelphia and New York. Both families were laying the foundation for great wealth through their work and investments, and distantly knew one another, not at all well, before Jane and Matthew became an item. No alarm bells sounded when Matt asked Mr. Hagerty for permission to marry his daughter after he graduated university with honors and before he entered law school, and they were married by the Episcopal bishop of New York in an elaborate ceremony in St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.
They started their family right away. Ten months after they were married, Matthew James Broman, Jr., had been born, followed two years later by Jeffrey Howard and and two years after that by Martha Anne. The children stopped coming at that point, but the love between the elder Bromans had only deepened over the years. Matthew, Sr., was very career oriented, and his law career had received a good boost when his father-in-law had promoted him to a full partnership. The firm of Hagerty, Broman, Arpels, Schiffmeyer and Dixon prospered. So did the Broman family fortune, although Matt and Jane had always been of one mind about not accepting any large gifts from either of their families. They had always been proud they had made it largely on their own after leaving school. Eventually, of course, they both received large inheritances.
Their family had always come first for Matthew and Jane, and the three Broman kids grew up knowing that full well. Jane was a stay-at-home mother, always there for them. After Matthew's parents had both died, he and Jane had moved to the Broman estate. With the kids away at school all day, Jane converted a large room in one wing of the huge house into a workshop for herself and began to learn the jewel-making craft for which she was now renowned. The family remained close. An evening meal rarely occurred during the kids' growing-up years that all the family members did not sit down to eat together and talk about their day. The parents didn't have to fake it--they were really interested in what was transpiring in the lives of their kids. It had provided a solid foundation for the youngsters in knowing how to form good relationships and keep them.
It hadn't been a stretch for the Bromans when Mike had been propelled into their lives as a result of his family's tragic death. They had liked him from the first time they'd met him, and he obviously gave Matt a great deal of joy in his life. Mike's admission that he was gay at the point Matthew and Jane adopted him hadn't caused much of a stir at all in their lives. Matt's later admission that he, too, was gay had promoted some serious thought and soul-searching by his parents, but the senior Bromans had united around the idea that nothing was more important than keeping their family, including Mike, intact emotionally and in every other aspect. When Matt had married Sarah, they had warmly welcomed the young woman into the family and rejoiced in the imminent birth of their grandchildren. At the same time, they had gone out of their way to take care of Mike, who had been crushed at the dissolution of his bond with Matt. When the young men resumed their partnership after Sarah's death, the parents had not been displeased, and their respect and support for their sons' decision never wavered. The Bromans certainly didn't feel Mike owed them any debt for what they had done for him. But his love and calm good judgment in working with Jeff when the latter had had his little bout with heroin definitely put them in Mike's debt forever, they thought. They would be forever grateful for his skillful intervention in that matter, as well as for his sustained moral support for Matt when the latter had been on trial in Connecticut for alleged drug possession.
Justice Broman had been dubious that his two gay sons would ever find an Episcopal priest who would marry them, but was deeply gratified when the young curate at St. Stephen's in Chicago had agreed to do so with the permission of the rector there. The justice and his wife were keenly looking forward to the nuptials and to spending some quality time with their family. Mr. Broman fully planned to josh Mike a bit, though, about somehow creating a vortex that seemed to be sucking the whole damn Broman clan into the Windy City. That aside, he and Jane were proud of all their kids and happy for all the good things in the lives of every one of them. The justice felt he had been richly blessed in his children, and gave thanks for them by name every day, even more fervently since Matt had been stabbed and recovered against all odds. With those dark days behind them, Jane felt that the upcoming event in Chicago would be a nice respite for her husband from the pressures of the Court, and an opportunity to be around the family they both missed so much. They planned to enjoy themselves thoroughly.
* * *
Father Howard brought some extra copies of the Book of Common Prayer with him when he came to the condo for dinner Saturday night. After they had all eaten, they gathered in the den and he went over the various options for the service with everyone. Matt and Mike made some key decisions about what they wanted to do.
The upshot of the discussion was that they wanted the service to adhere as closely as possible to the Prayer Book order for Holy Matrimony when accompanied by a Nuptial Eucharist, with changes made only to accommodate language relating to gender. But they did decide that along with the traditional vows, they wanted also to state their vows in their own words. Father Howard readily agreed to that. The mass would be solemn high, with a soloist on hand to sing the minor propers. Father Rohm had asked to read the Gospel, and the two young men were pleased to have him participate.
While they were all gathered together in the den, Matt and Mike asked Mary Bradford to give them to each other at the chancel steps, along with Justice and Mrs. Broman. Mary cried. And accepted.
After the meeting was over, they all changed into swimming trunks, Father Howard borrowing a pair of Matt's, and went up to the pool. The kids were in heaven, having already already spent several hours that day swimming with Jeff. Unable to roughhouse, Matt, with Mike at his side, watched with amusement from the sidelines as Stan and Linda, Martha and Father David, and Jeff and Andie paired off, with the women on the men's shoulders, trying to dump each other into the water. The priest was so tall that he and Martha had a big advantage over the others despite Jeff's bulk and Stan's quickness.
When it was time for Matthew and Michael and Kyle to go to bed, Matt and Mike took them back down to the condo. The kids had been in the water so much that day that their dads merely put them in the shower to wash off the chlorine instead of giving them a full scale bath in the tub. Then they heard their prayers, tucked them into bed and read them a story. The boys were tired from all the activity that day, and soon drifted off to sleep accompanied by Matt's and Mike's goodnight kisses.
The athletes came down from the pool before long, exhilarated. After they changed clothes, Fr. Howard took his leave because he had the early mass at St. Stephen's the next morning. Before he left, Matt and Mike took him aside and thanked him yet again for agreeing to marry them and for his help in customizing the service. The young priest said he thought they had made some good decisions in what they wanted to do, and that he was looking forward to officiating.
The following morning, thinking ahead, Matt put a nice roast in the oven before the family, along with Andie, attended the late mass at St. Stephen's. After the service they went back to the parish house so that Matt and Mike could introduce Martha and Andie to Father Rohm. The rector was his usual charming self, and they all had a good conversation while the kids ran around the parish hall with some youngsters their own age. As the Broman group readied themselves to go home, Father Rohm told them he was looking forward to seeing the whole extended family back in the parish after Thanksgiving for Matt's and Mike's wedding.
Once back at the condo, Mike, Jeff, Martha, Andie and Stan changed into their running clothes and hit the beach with Breakers. Linda and Mary took care of the kids while Matt went down to the beach with them, and watched enviously as they sprinted off down the sand. He walked for 15 or 20 minutes, and then turned around and headed back toward home. He sat on the steps near the condo enjoying the sun and breeze, and in about 40 minutes he saw the crew in the distance running towards him. As they reached where he was sitting, Matt could see that they were all dripping sweat despite the cool breeze off the lake. The runners started walking in big circles while they cooled down, still breathing hard.
"Good run?" Matt asked.
Mike nodded. "Excellent," he panted. "Just hang in, Matt, it won't be long and you'll be back out there with us."
"I know," he sighed, and then looked at Stan. "Stan, I'm impressed. You're really keeping up with these guys. Lookin' good, man!"
"Thanks," Stan responded, still a little out of breath. "They may have slowed down a bit so I could keep up, though."
"Did not," Jeff said. "You're doin' great!"
After they had cooled down, everybody went upstairs. The runners showered and then sat down in the den for a few minutes. Meanwhile, Matt set the dining room table, nuked some potatoes in the microwave, made gravy from the pan dripping from the roast, fixed a huge bowl of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, broiled the last of the year's fresh asparagus, and then called everyone for dinner. Father Howard had arrived by then, having been invited for dinner after he extricated himself from the "greet and meet" back at the parish.
They held hands around the table. Mike offered thanks.
"Dear Lord, we thank you for life and for love, and for your bountiful grace in sustaining them. We are grateful for the opportunity to gather here to enjoy the good gifts you have given us. We especially glorify your name, Father, that you have preserved from harm the life of our brother and friend and companion, Matt, so that he and all of us may walk in the paths you have set before us. We give thanks for this meal. Bless this food to our use, and us to your faithful service, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Matt poured some of what proved to be a good bottle of Merlot into the wine glasses at each place setting, except for the three kids, of course, and they all got down to some serious eating. Matt and Mike cut up the little boys' slices of beef for them.
"If I'd even remotely suspected that you were this good a cook, Matt, I'd be marrying you myself instead of letting Mike have you!" Jeff kidded. "Delicious." Andie looked at him and grinned.
"Don't give me too much credit," Matt responded. "I had a chef sneak in up here while we were all down on the beach."
"Whatever," Jeff said. "I'll marry him or her, then! This is great!"
Everybody agreed, and there wasn't much talking as they ate ravenously. The young men, except for Matt, had seconds and then third helpings.
"Has anybody at St. Stephen's given you any flack about marrying Matt and Mike, Father?" Linda asked out of the blue.
"Not that I've heard," the young priest said. "In fact, Father Rohm told me that the Vestry had unanimously passed a resolution at their last meeting, with no prompting from him, supporting the rector in any and all pastoral decisions he makes. I can't tell you how much respect this man commands from the parishioners at St. Stephen's. The Senior Warden even gave him a signed letter documenting the Vestry's decision."
"Nothing heard from downtown, huh?" Mike asked the priest.
"I haven't heard anything. I'm not sure the bishop even knows at this point."
The conversation drifted to other subjects, and they finished their meal in good spirits. Mike and Linda cleared the table when they were finished, and loaded the dishwasher while the rest of the crew went to the den and vegged out, staring at the TV with glassy eyes.
Eventually Jeff and Martha went to their bedrooms to pack for the trip back to school. Andie started looking a little melancholy.
"Commere, Andie," Mike said to her, patting the seat on the couch beside him just vacated by Martha. Andie went over and sat down.
"He's gonna be back in 3 weeks," he told her. "And we have a lot of partying to look forward to."
"I know it," she said softly. "I know it's stupid, but I'm just gonna miss him something terrible."
"I understand," Mike said, putting his arm around her. "Don't think he won't be missing you, too. Why don't you spend some time with Matt and me and Linda and Stan and the kids between now and Thanksgiving? Matt has a lot of stories about Jeff's growing-up years to tell you. Maybe you won't miss him quite as much when you hear 'em," he added, laughing. "I'm just kidding, you know that."
"Yeah," Andie said. "Mike, I don't think I've ever seen a family as close-knit as this one is. But you're so open to embracing new people, too. I mean, my sister and I and my parents all love one another, and sometimes we even like each other, but it's nothing like you have. I don't even know what to say about it, it's so great."
"I think you have to give the credit to our mom and dad. I don't know whether they brought the personal qualities that knit this family together so well with them to their marriage, or whether they developed them later. Maybe both, I don't know. But having come to this family later in life, I've been trying for a long time now to analyze objectively just what makes it tick. Even after all these years, I don't know that I have an answer. It's probably not just one thing. Mom and Dad's strong spiritual bond with each other and with the Church is part of it. They're always looking for the best in people, and they tend not to rush to judgment about things and people. Very honestly, their love for each other just kind of envelopes everybody else, and whether they consciously meant to or not, they've taught their kids how to live the same way. I don't know whether that makes any sense..."
"It does, yes," Andie said. "Anyway, I'm really looking forward to meeting them. Jeff's told me a lot about them, and showed me their pictures, but I want to get to know them in person."
"They want to meet you, too," Mike said. "In their book, anybody who could be such a key part of straightening out a wild hare like Jeff has to be special." He hugged her and kissed her cheek.
Later that afternoon, Matt, Mike, Andie and Father Howard took Jeff and Martha to O'Hare airport in the Blazer to put them on their plane for back East. The baggage checked, they all hung around together outside the security checkpoint so they could spend the last few minutes with each other. Andie cried a little when the flight was announced, and Jeff held her tight right up to the moment that he and Martha had to say goodbye to the others and clear security. Martha got a hug from the priest. Then the two travelers hugged their brothers, and clearing the check point quickly because they had no carry-on luggage, starting trekking down the long corridor to their boarding gate, occasionally looking back.
Outside the terminal, Mike went to retrieve the car from short-term parking and picked up the others, and they were soon on their way home.
Once there, Matt and Mike began to compile the guest list for their big day. They decided that in each wedding invitation a note would be placed requesting that no gifts be given, along with an invitation to a reception back at the condo following the ceremony.
* * *
Father Rohm called David Howard into his office late Tuesday morning. He told him he'd had a call from Bishop Hewitt, and that the bishop wanted to see the rector at diocesan headquarters on Wednesday afternoon. When Rohm had asked what the topic of discussion was to be, the bishop said he was hearing rumors about a gay marriage scheduled to be performed at St. Stephen's, and wanted to discuss it.
"At least he didn't fly into a rage," the older priest commented.
"Should I be worried?" Father Howard asked.
"Not yet. I'll let you know when," Father Rohm said with a twinkle in his eye.
"How can you be so calm about this?"
"I'm calm because I know our Right Reverend Father in God so well."
"It's not important," Rohm said, and shooed the young priest out of his office.
On Wednesday afternoon, Curt Rohm arrived at Bishop John Hewitt's office on the near north side of Chicago right on time, not a minute before and not a minute later. The bishop's secretary greeted him cordially, buzzed the bishop, and then ushered the priest into the inner sanctum. The walls were paneled in gleaming mahogany and lined with books, the room comfortably lit with hidden, indirect lighting. Rohm had been in this room many times, and didn't bother to look around.
"Hello, Curt." The bishop, a well-built, well-fed six footer with a florid complexion, stood up from his huge desk and walked around it, his hand extended to his visitor.
"Good afternoon, Bishop." They shook hands, and Father Rohm, ever the traditionalist, bent his head and raised the prelate's hand to kiss the large episcopal ring on the ring finger of the man's right hand. He knew the bishop didn't particularly like that, but he never failed to do it anyway.
"How are you, Curt?" the bishop asked as they both sat down in front of the desk, their chairs angled toward one another.
"Couldn't be better, John," the priest said, having known the bishop since they were in seminary together.
"How's the family?" Hewitt asked.
"They're fine. Alicia is still teaching, as am I, and the kids are well. How is Joan?"
"She's very well. She's over in Palestine right now on a fact-finding mission for the presiding bishop, so keep her in your prayers, if you would. I didn't want her to go, but she insisted."
"She'll do a good job, John, and she'll be safe. They take special care of American visitors. But I'll remember her in my intercessions."
"Thank you." The bishop sighed. "It's a dangerous world out there, and it just keeps changing," he said.
"Yes, it does," the priest said. "And I gather that's why you wanted to see me."
"True. I've been given to understand that you're going to permit a gay wedding at St. Stephen's?"
"Yes. Two Christian young men, good parishioners who happen to be gay and very much in love, will be married there the Saturday after Thanksgiving at a Solemn High Mass."
The bishop sighed again. "Who are they? Do I know them?"
"I'm not sure. They're originally from Pennsylvania, I believe. They happen to be the son and the adopted son of Associate Justice Matthew Broman of the U.S. Supreme Court. You've probably met Broman, if not the sons. He's been a delegate to a lot of the church's General Conventions, I believe."
"So this little ceremony is bound to get national publicity, I suppose," the bishop groaned.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Father Rohm said. "By the way, I'm not officiating except to sing the Gospel at mass. Father Howard is doing the honors."
"What if I asked you and Father Howard not to do this?"
"Asked? Well, that would open up a whole new discussion."
"What kind of discussion?" the bishop asked.
"A discussion between you and me regarding the basis for your 'request.'"
"The basis for my request is that the House of Bishops has asked that there be a moratorium on any same gender marriages for the time being."
"I don't give a damn about that, John. You and the other bishops may want to tread water in hopes that the heavens will open and assume you all bodily into heaven so you'll be spared from having to make a painful decision. But that's not going to happen."
"Curt..." Hewitt looked at Rohm reproachfully.
"John, let's talk Scripture. You remember that I was one of the few in our class in seminary who took Hebrew. Would it surprise you to know that I've maintained my proficiency?"
"No, knowing you," the bishop said grumpily.
"Well, I have. I've read over the few passages in the Old Testament that deal with the issue of homosexuality many times, and you know what I've discovered?"
"Looking at the original text and taking into account the social mores of the day, I've discovered that the reason the Hebrews forbade homosexual relations wasn't primarily because they wanted to maximize population growth, the way I'd always thought. It was because in the act of homosexual sex, one of the men would take the role of the woman, viewed culturally as the subservient role, and women were second class citizens in those days. Chattel, really. One man would lose his preëminent position as the male in the course of participating in a homosexual sex act, and that was the equivalent of social murder. The Taliban insistence on women wearing the burqua in Afghanistan is just a modern day example of the extreme view which prevailed in Old Testament times, that women are inferior to men. The prohibition against male to male sex, it turns out, was indeed culturally based, and doesn't bespeak a rule for all the ages. So, given the sea changes in how reasonable and educated people view women today, we need a whole new take in the Church on the gay issue, wouldn't you say? And the young Broman men are going to receive the benefit of that point of view. I'm may be a traditionalist, but I know right from wrong, John."
"Are you willing to split your parish over this?"
"That's not going to happen." The priest reached into his inside breast pocket and pulled out the statement of support from St. Stephen's vestry, signed by the senior warden, handing it to the bishop. "This was unsolicited on my part, by the way."
The bishop read the document, and handed it back without comment.
"What if I forbid you and Father Howard to proceed?"
"What if you alienate the most vigorous and prosperous parish in the inner city, and are left with nothing but empty buildings and no money to support them?"
"Don't threaten me, Curt."
"Don't threaten me, John. If you're going to inhibit David Howard and me from administering the sacraments over this issue, get on with it. But know this. Matthew James Broman, Jr., and Michael Andrew Broman will most certainly be married by someone, somewhere, in the name of God. So if you're going to piss off the Bromans and most of St. Stephen's Parish, I'd like to know that's your decision right now!"
"You're unleashing a firestorm I won't be able to put out, this on top of all the publicity about gay and pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church and elsewhere," the bishop said sadly.
"That has nothing to do with this wedding. If there's a firestorm, let's consider it a cleansing fire, and go ahead and do the right thing for these two young men and for their family," Father Rohm said.
The bishop stood and walked around his desk and sat down behind it, looking at his defiant priest thoughtfully.
"Well?" Rohm asked.
"Go ahead, then, if I can't talk you out of it," the bishop said a little truculently. "Just know that you're doing me and the diocese a terrible disservice, even if you're not all wrong in what you want to do. The timing is terrible."
"With all due respect, Bishop, I have to do the right thing for Jesus Christ and His flock. I'm doing that. I take no pleasure in causing you or the diocese any pain, and I hope you know this."
"The strange thing is, I believe you." The bishop stood slowly and offered his hand, which the priest took and held.
"Ecce, sacerdos magnus." (Behold the great priest.) "And I sincerely mean that of you, John," Rohm said solemnly, again bending his head and kissing the man's ring before leaving the office.
* * *
The great day was fast approaching. Matthew and Jane Broman had flown in with Jack and Judy Hagerty on Jack Hagerty's company plane on the Monday evening of Thanksgiving week, the justice having thoroughly checked to see if Jack's company had any litigation in the legal system that could ever, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, ultimately make it to the Supreme Court. There was none, and the Bromans were pleased to take advantage of the private flight with no fear that a conflict of interest would come back to haunt Justice Broman.
Grandma Hagerty had been too frail to come to Chicago, but Matt and Mike had called her back East and had a long and wonderful conversation. Grandma's body was weak, but there was certainly nothing wrong with her mind. She had seemed as excited as they were when they described what the wedding ceremony would be like, and she made them promise to videotape the service and send it to her.
The family, both blood and extended, were ecstatic to be all together again, and the condo was one happy place. Every bedroom in that sprawling place had a tenant simultaneously for the first time in memory. The inn was full.
Matthew and Michael and Kyle were in their element, surrounding by adults who loved them beyond all reason. Grandparents Matthew and Jane, and even Mary Bradford, became their willing slaves during wedding week.
As Thanksgiving Day approached, Jane and Mary and Linda and Martha and Andie and Judy Hagerty made it clear that they and they alone were going to be responsible for preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Mike had already bought a 25 pound turkey, but on Tuesday afternoon the ladies took his Blazer and went out shopping for all the rest of the food. They didn't leave much on the grocery store shelves from the looks of what they brought upstairs when they got back.
Matt and Mike put their dad at the head of the dinner table that night, and their mom at the foot. Matt and Mike asked Justice Broman to return thanks, and as they all held hands around the table, he offered a grace so beautiful and heartfelt that they were deeply touched. The family said "Amen," but involuntarily stood silent and unmoving, reflecting for a moment on the prayer before the men seated the women and sat down themselves. Martha and Andie brought three huge tureens of thick vegetable soup cooked with beef, the meat now on plates for sandwiches, and at least ten long loaves of fresh French bread, accompanied by plates of butter, out of the kitchen. Mike poured the wine, and they feasted.
Fr. Howard had joined the family for dinner, and Justice and Mrs. Broman were very much taken with him when they had a chance to talk with him later. They let him know how much they appreciated what he was doing for Matt and Mike, but he didn't encourage them to see him as any kind of hero.
"I wasn't sure that we'd actually be able to do this," the young priest told them frankly. "I kept waiting for some impediment to come up that we couldn't get around. But Father Rohm and Bishop Hewitt apparently had a meeting a couple weeks ago, and I guess they reached an understanding. All Father told me was, 'No worries. Get on with it.' So all systems are 'Go.' I didn't have the final word on whether this could happen, believe me."
"Father, you still have our deepest gratitude for being willing to do this for Matt and Mike," Jane Broman told him. "Matthew and I believe, admittedly in part because we have two gay sons, that we need to accept and nurture love wherever it's found. If two people love each other completely, they love each other completely, and that's that. We're life-long Episcopalians, and I didn't ever think our boys could ever have their partnership blessed by a priest in church. Thank you for proving us wrong."
"It's a good union. Matt and Mike deserve this," the priest said. "But please don't give me the credit. Father Rohm is the one who will probably take the heat for stepping out ahead of the crowd on this one."
"I want to call him," Justice Broman said. "Right now might be a good time, if you have his telephone number."
Justice Broman wrote the number down as David Howard read it off to him, and the jurist excused himself to go to the quiet and privacy of his bedroom to make the call. When he took the call, St. Stephen's rector was modest and low key during their conversation, but the call meant a lot to both of them.
Jeff had introduced Andie to his mother and father and aunt and uncle, and they all loved her at first sight. The senior Bromans took her to the living room for a get-acquainted talk, and at least some of Andie's shyness, untypical for her, was soon dissipated. Matthew Broman told his wife that Andie, like Martha, reminded him a lot of her when they were young and first in love. Still somewhat in awe of them, Andie whispered to Jeff later that she thought she should go home for the night rather than staying over, because their sleeping together might offend his parents, but Jeff convinced her not to leave.
Later in the evening, the three grandchildren badgered their grandparents into going swimming, and soon all the adults were up in the pool. Matt walked around a bit in the shallow end, but mostly just sat on the steps enjoying everyone's pleasure at being together and in the water.
Jane Broman swam up to where her son was sitting, and Matt eased himself down into the water and stood with her. She traced with her finger the still-angry looking welt on his chest where he had been stabbed, and tears came to her eyes.
"Don't cry, Mom. If you're doing it right, nobody gets through life without getting a little beaten up."
"I know, but..."
"It meant the world to me that you and Dad came down here when I was hurt. You two and Mike were really responsible for getting me through that mess. And I couldn't leave the boys behind, could I?"
"You couldn't leave the boys? Well, now you understand how your dad and I felt about you when that happened...how we feel about all you kids."
Wordlessly, Matt drew her into his arms, and they stood there in the water holding each other in the midst of all the frolicking people.
On Wednesday, the women all went down to the Loop for lunch, while Matt, Mike, Jeff , Stan, Mr. Broman and the kids took a ride up to Northwestern's Evanston campus and looked around. It seemed to Matt and Mike as if every time they went up there, a new building had sprung up. Then the men went to the rental store to try on their tuxes and accouterments. Miracle of miracles, everything fit.
Everyone went to early mass at St. Stephen's on Thanksgiving morning. Father Rohm was introduced to the the members of the Broman-Hagerty clan he had not yet met, and then the whole family went home and visited and napped and read the papers. The meal for that afternoon had been planned so that most of the adults were responsible for just one item on the menu. Mike had put the turkey in the oven before anyone had been up that morning, and he and Matt took turns basting it as the day progressed. By five o'clock, the target hour, things had come together nicely, and everyone gathered around the dining room table, with all the table extensions in place to accommodate everyone.
Before offering thanks, Mike asked for everyone's attention as they stood at their places.
"Matt and I just want you all to know how grateful we are to have you here with us today, particularly because Saturday, our special day, is almost here. Everything the two of us know about love for others and commitment to others, we've learned from you. You've been our examples when it comes to rejoicing in the positive things of life and living in harmony with ourselves and others. Your kindness and compassion and tolerance over the years, not only for us, but for pretty much everybody on this planet, have been our guide as we've grown up. We thank you for all these things, and we'll carry each and every one of you in ours hearts forever."
Everyone studiously avoided looking at one another because there wasn't a dry eye around the table.
Martha said grace, and they tied into a marvelous and plenteous meal. Mike excused himself briefly to take a plate of hot food and a glass of wine down to Dominic, who was working that day at the front desk. He tried to look surprised when the doorman told him that the business office at the University of Chicago Hospital had notified him a few days ago that there had been an error in their billing for his wife's surgery, and that he had no debt with them that needed to be paid.
* * *
The rehearsal went smoothly Friday night, and Saturday morning dawned clear and warm, a magnificent late Fall day along Lake Michigan. The marriage ceremony and mass were scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Matt and Mike woke up early, and were showered and shaved by 8 o'clock. They opted not to eat breakfast, but did have some juice and coffee in the kitchen before going back to their room to put on their tuxes. They had chosen traditional black tuxes and starched white shirts with French cuffs and pearl studs running down the front, and black bow ties. A limousine was to pick them up at 9:45.
As they walked to the foyer to get on the elevator, Justice and Mrs. Broman came out of the den to see them off, both dressed to the nines themselves. Jane Broman began to weep as soon as she saw them, and soon all four of them were hugging and had tears in their eyes.
"Mom and Dad..." Matt started to say. Then his throat closed up and he had to stop talking.
"We've already said all that needs to be said," Justice Broman commented softly. "You look as handsome on the outside as you are on the inside. God bless you, boys. We love you. We'll see you at the church."
Mrs. Broman dabbed at her eyes and the three men blew their noses, and then Matt and Mike stepped into the foyer and on to the elevator.
At precisely 10:20, the organist began playing a prelude, a Bach toccata and fugue that the young men had asked for and now couldn't remember the name of.
Matt and Mike soon went out to the narthex, where their three boys, mom and dad, Mary Bradford, Jeff and Martha, and Linda and Stan awaited them. The prelude ended, and the organist began Purcell's Trumpet Voluntary, which the guys had been informed by the organist was really ThePrince of Denmark's March by Jeremiah Clarke. In any case, it was stirring, and the procession began with the three little boys with cushions, two supporting their dads' wedding rings, and the third an empty cushion on which their engagement rings would be placed when they removed them. The boys were followed by Linda and Stan and Jeff and Martha, and then Mary Bradford walked just in front of Matt and Mike, followed by Justice and Mrs. Broman.
The two young men noticed that the church was fuller than they thought it would be. Many of their classmates had accepted the invitations that Matt and Mike had mailed, and they were pleased at the turnout. Matt was particularly pleased when he spotted Tony Angelo and a pretty woman he assumed was his wife, Marie, sitting together with Chris Russo and Sisters Angeline and Catherine. That was a nice surprise. Arnie Watkins was there, smiling broadly. The wedding party reached the steps to the choir area, and spread out with Matt and Mike in the center.
Father Howard stood on the top step and began the ceremony.
"Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this man in Holy Matrimony..." The service progressed word for word out of the Prayer Book except for changes relating to gender. After the declarations of consent by Matt and Mike, the priest asked who was giving the two men to one other.
Mary Bradford and Matthew and Jane Broman responded together, "We are." They turned then and sat down in the front pew.
The cantor sang a scrap of verse called the Introit and the young priest sang the collect. The Old Testament lesson was then sung, followed by the singing of some verses of a Psalm by the cantor. The New Testament epistle was sung next. The cantor then sang a verse of Scripture called the Gradual, with Alleluias, as Father Rohm climbed up the stairs to the pulpit. The rector then sang the Gospel lesson. Flawlessly.
Father Howard gave a short homily from the steps to the altar, noting the great joy of the two grooms and their family that this ceremony could take place, and reminding all who were present of the love and fidelity required of all those married before God's altar.
After Matt and Mike had made the traditional vows, David Howard asked them if they wished to make their vows to each other in their own words.
Mike began, taking Matt's right hand in both of his.
"Matthew, you have been first in my heart and mind since the day we met, and here I make my vow to you that this will never change. When you rejoice, I will rejoice with you. When you laugh, I will laugh. When you are sorrowful, I will weep with you. You are the very heart of my heart. Your inner beauty has captured me completely. >From you I have learned what it is to love another human being totally and without reservation. Because of your good and kind spirit, I have been blessed to share your life, as I will do in the future, renewed by God's grace. You have taught me what it means to be brave and true and loyal in a world full of adversity, and these lessons will remain with me and guide me so long as we both live within this sacred bond. I swear it in the name of our Lord and Savior, and this is my solemn vow."
Matt took Mike's hand in his, and Mike saw tears in his partner's eyes.
"Michael, my own love for you and commitment to you knows no bounds. You saved my physical life shortly after we first met, but only as we became brothers and partners did I begin to realize fully the joy that lay ahead for me within our relationship. You have rescued me from the lonely selfishness in which so many human beings are condemned to live, and opened my eyes to the real meaning of caring for one another. Through your example, I have learned kindness and patience and trust and benevolence, and these gifts of character I now promise to return to you in full measure as we travel our mutual road together. All that I know about forgiveness and resiliency and forbearance, about living in harmony with God and His whole creation, I have learned from you. You have enriched my life beyond my dreams with your multitude of gifts, gifts of the spirit and soul with which you have been so richly blessed. You have unselfishly shared these gifts with me, and my heart is yours. I give myself to you fully and completely and forever. I swear it in the name of our Lord and Savior, and this is my solemn vow."
Father Howard had to swallow a huge lump in his throat before he could continue. He took the rings from the little boys' cushions and went to the altar, blessing them with prayer and holy water. When he returned, the young men exchanged the rings, each saying the other's name and adding, "I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
The priest continued. "Now that Matthew and Michael have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, I pronounce that they are committed and wedded partners, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
He paused and wrapped his stole of office around their joined hands. "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder."
The priest and wedding party moved up to the altar rail for the remainder of the mass. Father Howard put on a gleaming white chasuble while an altar boy brought him a thurible full of hot coals. He added incense, and began to cense the altar, furnished now with the gifts of bread and wine which Father Rohm had already placed there.
Matt and Mike watched the incense as it streamed up toward the roof of the church high above, and the wisps of aromatic smoke seemed somehow inextricably linked with their prayers for one another and for their relationship and for their children.
END OF BOOK 2
I took a little vacation in May, which put me behind in my writing. So once again I thank you for your patience in waiting for this installment of WIO. I hope you've enjoyed it. Authors like Sequoyah and Driver 9 and Brew and Drew and so many others have continued to inspire me and intrigue me with their work, and I'm truly grateful to them for their skill and dedicated effort. The Nifty archives are a real resource for all of us. There's something here for every taste. Heh. So, all the best to you. Please note my new email address as I prepare to move to a new part of the country sometime this summer: email@example.com . Also, please note that some very kind readers have started a discussion group devoted to WIO on Yahoo. It can be accessed at: http://groups.yahoo.com/adultconf?dest=%2Fgroup%2FWorkingItOut%2F (or somewhere in that vicinity--Yahoo confuses me.)