For some inexplicable reason, the twins were sleeping a little later than usual. Matt and Mike had returned to bed and sleep after their sojourn down the hall to the den at 5 a.m. to light a candle.
Matt awakened first, and without moving looked over at Mike. He unconsciously moistened his lips as he thought about the ways the two of them had pleasured each other the previous night. The urgency of sexual desire having been well quenched, now Matt's eye was on Mike for the sheer beauty of his form.
Matt's glance caressed his partner at rest. He wanted in all innocence to put his hand on that beautiful chest, uncovered to the waist, but restrained himself. He didn't want to wake him and then lose sight of him for even a moment as he inevitably rose and went about the day's tasks.
Mike's big hands rested on top of the sheet, his square, masculine fingers slightly splayed in repose. His face was lightly peppered with morning stubble; it had changed little over the years he and Matt had been apart. It was a little more mature, perhaps, but still exceptionally handsome and youthful and healthy looking. A few dark blond hairs from Mike's longish brush cut lay down on his forehead, but Matt resisted the temptation to smooth them back.
Have I ever been this happy, Matt asked himself. He could count those times on the fingers of one hand, and except for the birth of the twins, all of them had principally involved Mike. It doesn't get better than this, his inner voice told him. Enjoy it! Glory in it!
"Hey," Mike said softly, breaking into Matt's reverie.
Saying nothing, Matt took Mike's closest hand and brought it over to his own chest and held it there.
"Good heart beat, bud," Mike said after a minute. "I don't even need a stethoscope."
"Any clue how happy you make me, Mike?"
"Yep." Mike took his hand back and turned on his side toward his lover, resting his head and now the other hand on Matt. He stroked Matt's chest gently.
"I want to do something really nice for you, Mike," Matt said. "No, something great for you. I just don't know what."
"You can mark that off your list, bro."
"Whaddaya mean?" Matt asked.
"Well, thanks to you, we've started working through a shitload of hurt feelings and confusion and mistrust and stubbornness, mostly mine, and ended up where we should be. Right here, right now. You're a badass jock, bro, and you don't give up. You keep pushing the envelope until reality is what you want it to be. Thank God for that. I'm a lucky man!"
"I'm no hero, Mike. It was up to me to try to make things right. I'm the one who's been blessed."
"Don't argue with me, or I'll hafta hurt ya." Mike kissed his partner slowly, gently, his lips lingering on Matt's.
The sound of a crib being vigorously shaken in the next bedroom cut their exchange short. They unclenched, stretched, groaned, and crawled out of bed to tend to the boys. The twins stopped their noise-making when Matt and Mike entered their room, and held up their arms to be picked up. Then it was off to the bathroom for morning ablutions.
After the boys were cleaned up and fed, Mike put them in their play pen, and he and Matt showered together. They washed one another, and then clung together under the warm spray.
Playfully pinching Mike's ass, Matt mimicked Dean Martin and crooned, "When you swim in a creek, and an eel bites your cheek, that's a moray." Mike just rolled his eyes.
Emerging from the shower at last, they dried off, dressed and joined the twins in the den while they had their own breakfast of coffee, juice and toast. Mike took Breakers downstairs for his morning walk, and when he returned the boys were reconnoitering the den yet again. They made a beeline for the dog, and the three of them rolled around on the floor.
"Breakers is really good with the boys," Matt commented, looking up from the morning newspaper.
"Yeah," Mike agreed. "Goldens have a reputation for getting along with kids."
They laughed as they watched the boys torment the dog, who tormented them back by holding them down with his big front paws and licking their faces until they squealed and rolled away. The kids were persistent, but the dog was quick, so it was generally a draw.
"Listen, what do we need to do to get ready for tonight?" Matt asked, folding up the paper.
"Well, I guess I'll hafta try something unprecedented, and run the vacuum cleaner. And we'll need to dust the furniture, I s'pose. And we prolly should set the table in the dining room."
"The dining room? Where is it? I haven't seen it."
"C'mon," Mike said. Leaving the kids with Breakers for a few minutes, they went through the living room and turned left. Behind double doors was a sizable room with a table that would comfortably seat about 12 people, maybe 16 in a pinch. One wall was floor to ceiling windows like those in the living room, covered by sheers with drapes tied off at each side, facing the north side of the city. A small, crystal chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling, and a breakfront with glass doors displayed a nice dinner service. A 6 foot long buffet table sat to one side, next to a door that opened into the kitchen.
The furniture was covered with a layer of dust, and Matt drew a big heart with an arrow through it and his and Mike's initials on the table top.
"Mom and Martha sure did a nice job furnishing the room, doncha think?" Mike asked. "But y'know, I've never eaten a meal in here."
"Beautiful room, Mike. It's perfect," Matt said.
Matt had an epiphany. Seeing the dusty table, and hearing Mike say that he had never once used the dining room since he moved in, brought home to him in a new way--to his gut now and not just his intellect--how alone, how isolated Mike must have been over the past three years. The personal cost to Mike of their breakup knifed through him yet again, as he felt deep inside how devastated his brother must have been. Matt's sorrow had been real enough before, but from that moment on it had new emotional dimensions.
He tucked his painful new awareness away for later consideration when he was back at school and alone with his thoughts. He didn't want to bring Mike down by reprising the whole matter yet again at that point.
Breakers came bounding into the dining room, and when Matt and Mike looked out into the living room, the boys were toddling after him as fast as their short, chunky little legs could carry them. Breakers ran back into the living room and headed for the den, dodging around the boys. The twins immediately reversed course and were hot on his trail. Matt and Mike laughed and followed the pack back to the den.
"I'm loving this, Matt," Mike said, throwing an arm around his brother's neck as they walked.
Matt gave him a big grin.
They sat back down on the couch in the den and finished their coffee, and then put the twins in the playpen so they could start cleaning the condo. The boys complained loudly for a minute, but Matt turned on the TV and found some cartoons, diverting them for the time being.
Mike gave Matt some soft cloths and some furniture polish from the closet.
"Go forth and rub," he said.
"That reminds me of a story," Matt responded.
"Why do you torture me like this?" Mike asked for perhaps the hundredth time.
"I don't know," Matt said, wagging his head from side to side. "'Cause it's my job, I guess. It's not an easy job. It's not the hardest job in the world, either. Do I hate it? No. It may even give me some small--very small-- pleasure now and then. It doesn't pay anything, of course. But it is my job. Haven't I explained this before?"
"You love the sound of your own voice, doncha?"
"Well, yes. What's not to love? It's deep, it has good timbre and range, and it has a lilt to it when I sing. Now that I think about it, I need to be singing to you and the boys more often."
"Between storytelling and singing, you're gonna warp these kids."
"Not!" Matt said. "Anyway...
"One day when the teacher walked to the black board,
she noticed someone had written the word 'penis' in
tiny little letters. She turned around and scanned the class
looking for the guilty face. Finding none, she erased from
the board real fast, and began her class.
"The next day she went into the room, and she saw, in
larger letters, the word 'penis' again on the black board.
Again, she looked around in vain for the offender, but
found no guilty face, so she erased it and proceeded with the
"Every morning, for about a week, she went into the classroom
and found the same suggestive word written on the board,
each day's word larger than it had been the day before--
'penis'--and no guilty party.
"Finally, one day, she walked in, expecting to be greeted by
'penis' on the board in truly giant letters, but instead found the
words:......'The more you rub it, the bigger it gets!'"
The pleased expression on Matt's face was funnier than the story, and Mike had to laugh.
"Get to work," he ordered.
"This thing's in mint condition," Mike said to himself, taking the vacuum cleaner out of the closet, plugging it in and switching it on. Matt said something, but Mike just gave him a big smile and signaled he couldn't hear him, and started sweeping.
An hour later, things around the condo were on their way to looking better. They met back in the den.
"You wanna clean up the guest bathrooms while I do the kitchen?" Mike asked Matt.
"Hey, dude, I know how to play this game. When you get a suggestion from your 'significant other,' tell yourself you're really in charge, but say, 'Yes, dear,' and do what you're told. I'm whipped, y'know. In the final analysis, we subs are just the sex slaves of our dominant partners."
Mike parodied being pumped up, scrunching up his face and posing in a crab.
"That's cute," Matt said. "You look like an angry Pee-wee Herman on 'roids."
Mike chased him around the couch a few times to no avail, the boys watching with interest.
"What are you on today, anyway?" Mike asked. "You're outta control."
"High on life, dude! Had my Mikey fix, feelin' fine!"
Matt came around the couch, engulfing Mike in a big hug during which he took the opportunity to grab and squeeze his brother's ass lasciviously, and then headed for the bathrooms muttering, "Sex slave, sex slave. Yeah, baby!"
"You're totally bent, man," Mike said, setting out for the kitchen.
By 1 p.m., the condo looked perfect, and the good plates and serving dishes had been run through the dishwasher to make sure they were clean and shiny. A new white table cloth graced the dining room table, set now with two small silver candelabra and the good silverware.
Matt and Mike called a halt to their labors and fed the boys, who promptly fell asleep in the playpen, and then made some soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for themselves. After they ate, the two of them lay down on the big couch in the den together, and took a little nap. Afterwards they each planned to get in a run on the beach.
Stirring around in their playpen, the twins awakened them in about 30 minutes, and Matt sat up on the couch, cradling Mike.
"I told you this morning I wanted to do something nice for you," Matt said. "Why don't I start small by giving you a haircut so you'll look nice for tonight?"
"It's been a long time since you've done that," Mike said slowly. "Sounds great. It's gotten a little longer than I like it."
Leaving the twins in their playpen, they went down the hall to Mike's room. Matt took Mike's computer chair and wheeled it into his bathroom, and covered it with a bath towel. Then he pulled Mike's T off his body, admiring his torso, and sat him down.
"Where are the implements of destruction?" Matt asked. "Heh heh."
"That drawer," Mike said, pointing.
Matt removed a comb and electric clippers from the hair care kit he found there, plugged in the clippers, and ran his hand through Mike's dark blond hair.
"Great hair, Mikey," Matt said. "I've always liked it. How do you want it?"
"Just a standard brush cut will do. On the short side, though."
"You got it."
Putting a hand towel around Mike's neck and leveling his brother's head, Matt began to run the clippers from front to back as hair tumbled on to the towel and Mike's lap and fell to the floor. Stopping periodically to check from the side and in the bathroom mirror, in a few minutes the top was just a little longer than a flattop would have been. Changing blades, Matt began on the sides, making sure there was a good taper from the top to the hairline. After cleaning up Mike's neckline, Matt put the comb and clippers away and moistened a wash cloth with hot water. He ran the damp cloth over Mike's neck, shoulders and chest to remove any loose hair. Then he dried him off, kissing and nuzzled his neck in the process.
"Son, you do good work!" Mike said as he stood and studied his image in the mirror from several angles. "Maybe barbering is really your thing, you think?"
"Where's my tip?"
Mike put his arms around Matt from the back and caressed his brother's crotch.
"It's right here, I think. Why, did you think it was missing?"
"I'll give you about two hours to stop that! And I mean it!"
They laughed and looked at each other in the mirror.
"Mike, why don't we put the kids and the strollers in the Blazer and head down to the park for a run? The paths there are nice and smooth if I remember right, and we can run together today if we push the strollers instead of going separately."
"Good thought," Mike said. "I wanna run your little mesomorph, jockboy butt into the ground."
And they went, and he almost did.
Mike's plans for the dinner party were ambitious. The caterers and their manager arrived about 5 p.m., with the waiters arriving about an hour later. Matt and Mike had opened up the wet bar in the den, and regrouped the furniture in the living room a bit to promote conversation when their guests arrived.
Tony Angelo--newly minted Captain Tony Angelo--arrived first about 6:15 wearing civvies. He had been appointed the watch commander of a north side precinct just a month ago. Matt and Mike extended their congratulations on his promotion, with Mike saying that they knew he was destined for greatness the night they took their swim off Lake Shore Drive. Fortunately, Tony had the night off, and able to drink, accepted the offer of a nice, tall bourbon and water. He again expressed regret that his wife was out of town caring for her mother and couldn't join them. Like the skilled policeman he was, Tony elicited all the pertinent information about Matt's and Mike's lives since they had left Chicago, and expressed his sorrow over Matt's loss of his wife. Tony took the twins out of their playpen and held them and talked with them. He told Matt and Mike that his older son and his wife had recently had their first grandchild, so he needed the practice.
Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine were next in the door. They had never met Tony, and made his acquaintance warmly after greeting Matt and Mike. Matt supposed it wasn't good church etiquette to hug and kiss nuns, but he did it anyway. Mike had seen the sisters periodically since he had moved back to Chicago, but Matt was struck with how little the two of them seemed to have aged. Angeline was as energetic as ever. After some small talk catching up on things, the sisters had their turn with the kids. The twins took to them like metal filings to a magnets.
Last in the door were Stan Rosinski and his fiancée', a classy looking blonde named Linda Kosco, from a good Polish family, naturally. Matt and Mike liked her immediately, and she and Stan seemed to be very comfortable with one another. In fact, Stan couldn't keep his eyes off her.
It was a different Stan than Matt remembered from Hospice. The tough, angry, streetkid facade wasn't completely gone, but was definitely muted by the self assuredness of a young man who had goals and was on his way toward attaining them. His demeanor was friendly, and he looked everyone squarely in the eye when he said hello. Matt noticed that although Stan might still be pierced and accessorized under his clothes where it couldn't be seen, he now wore only one earring in his left ear, and of a much smaller size than he used to wear. He had on a white shirt and tie, a nice sport coat with contrasting trousers, and his shoes were shined. Matt suspected that Linda, along with the leavening influence of college, had brought about the good changes in Stan he was seeing.
After everyone had his or her drink of choice served by a bartender in a white jacket, they all went into the living room and talked some more, the sisters still splitting their time between adult conversation and talking to the twins. The little boys jabbered away. Matt suddenly realized that what the kids were saying was starting to be intelligible. He couldn't help thinking that the next thing he knew, they'd be arguing with him over bedtime, and then whether or not they could date midweek. Just another reminder to make every minute with them count.
Sister Angeline filled Matt in on how things had changed for the better at the Hospice with the infusion of money the Broman family had made available: no more worries about bringing the building up to code, and a much stronger medical support program than they could have afforded before. Stan commented that staff had received raises, too, and turnover had decreased. Sister Catherine mentioned that AIDS cases among Blacks had been increasing drastically, many of them within heterosexual relationships, with some of that increase being felt at Hospice.
Stan shared that he had completed his community college courses, received his associate's degree in health care administration, and had been admitted to Loyola for his last two years. He modestly accepted everyone's congratulations. Although he didn't mention that his education had largely been made possible by Mike, he kept looking with gratitude in Mike's direction, Matt noted. Linda revealed that she was also in health care, wanting to go on for her bachelor's degree and become an RN.
So that Matt could stay to enjoy their guests, Mike collected the boys as the conversation continued, and took them into the den where he fed them some jars of food they especially liked. Then he gave them a quick bath, and put them down for the night. No story before bed tonight, but the boys didn't complain. He returned to the living room where the conversation was still going strong and gave Matt a thumbs-up.
Before long, one of the waiters interrupted to say that dinner was served, and Mike led their guests into into the dining room. The chandelier had been appropriately dimmed, the candelabra were blazing, and the dinner service shone.
After everyone was standing at his or her place, Mike at the head of the table and Matt at the foot, they all joined hands and Mike offered thanks for friendship and for the food which they were about to receive. The men seated the ladies. Two waiters poured chardonnay into the wine glasses, and served the appetizer: escargot sautéed in white vermouth, garlic and tomatoes. It was excellent.
After the escargot had disappeared rather quickly, the waiters removed the plates and served the soup, a baked onion concoction with a crunchy, carmelized crust around the edges of the bowls. A salad Lyonnaise came next, followed by the entrée of pan roasted pork medallions in a sweet potato purée with cranberry chutney and pork wine sauce. The wine served was an excellent cabernet sauvignon.
The wine and good company had loosened tongues, and Tony talked at some length about city and police department politics, and Mike shared some of his medical school experiences, edited for polite company, of course.
At the conclusion of the delicious and leisurely meal, a dessert of sliced bananas sautéed with dark rum, brown sugar and banana liqueur was served with coffee from freshly ground beans.
The group finished dessert, and surfeited, rose from the table and went to the living room where they fell into their seats complaining about how they had overeaten, but happy.
Matt ducked out quickly to check on the boys, and finding them sleeping quietly, rejoined the guests as they regaled Mike with compliments for the meal. By 9:30, they had had several more cups of coffee, and were on their way out the door with smiles on every face and thanks on every tongue. The waiter crew finished cleaning up and left shortly thereafter, obviously pleased with the tip Mike gave each one as he left.
"You're the hostess with the mostest, dude!" Matt told Mike as they settled down close to each other on the couch. "That was one good supper, I'd have to say! I would have sung for it, y'know!"
"Thanks, but no thanks. The meal and everything kinda reminds me of holidays at Mom's and Dad's, huh?" Mike asked.
"Yeppers. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thanks for doing all this, Mike."
Mike responded by leaning over and kissing Matt on the mouth, slipping him some tongue, and then taking and holding his hand.
They sat there in comfortable silence for a while, each immersed in his own thoughts.
"I'm horny, and I wanna see you naked," Mike said out of the blue. "You can either strip here, or in the bedroom, I don't care. But do it!"
Matt laughed, but rose and did as he was told. Mike's eyes devoured the body emerging before him, totally smooth except for head, armpits and groin. Matt's muscles rippled sensually beneath his skin as he undressed unselfconsciously.
"You are so unbelievably fucking hot, I can't stand it," Mike murmured.
Sitting back down on the couch, his clothes in a heap on the floor, Matt cuddled Mike, cupping his crotch and unzipping his pants. Taking Mike's cock out of his boxers, he fondled it until it was standing straight out from his body. By that time Matt's own dick was hard and ready for action.
After touching one another in all the right places for a few minutes, Matt picked Mike up bodily and carried him down the hall to their bedroom. He gently undressed him, and after falling into bed, they indulged their wide-ranging fantasies until sleep eventually quelled desire.
* * *
The telephone rang insistently, finally awakening Matt out of a deep sleep. He noticed the big red numerals on the bedside clock as he reached across Mike and picked up the receiver. 2:30 a.m.
It was Martha. A very distraught Martha. Matt knew this wouldn't be good news.
"Matt? Can you put Mike on the phone with us?"
"Hold on, Mart." Matt shook Mike gently, and when his eyes opened, told him that Martha wanted to talk to both of them. Handing the bedside phone to Mike, he got up, snatched Mike's robe out of his closet and put it on, and hurried to the den.
" 'K, Martha, I'm on," Matt said, hearing Mike yawning into the other phone.
"I'm sorry, guys, but I'm in way over my head here. It's Jeff. I don't know what to do."
"What's the matter, Mart?" Mike's calm voice intervened.
"I was at the library studying late tonight, and when I got home about midnight, I went to Jeff's room to check on him. He was sitting on his bed, smoking a drug pipe. It smelled really strange to me. After I badgered him for awhile, he admitted he was smoking heroin, and then he just lay down like it was nothing unusual and went to sleep. I checked his arms and I didn't see any needle marks, or anything, but I'm really scared. I'm sorry I woke you up, but I've been sitting here for hours trying to decide what to do."
Stunned, the two young men were instantly wide awake. Matt sat down hard on the couch. Although he tried to stay in control, he could feel the anger building inside him.
"Martha, has Jeff been behaving strangely at all?" Mike asked.
"Well, yeah. This is weird. He's been dating this girl with purple hair and a miniature barbell in her nose for about a month. That wouldn't be Jeff's usual taste in women, I didn't think, but I haven't said anything. That's about it, although he's seemed kinda stressed out lately."
"Is he going to class and baseball practice every day?" Mike queried.
"Yes, as far as I know. And he always studies hard, and I haven't seen any change there."
"Damn it, Martha, how could this happen right under your nose!" Matt burst out. "Haven't you been watching out for him?"
"Lose the attitude, Matt. I never suspected that anything like this could happen to a kid like Jeff, and neither did you. So don't be a jackass and try to blame me!" Martha retorted.
"Cool your jets, Matt," Mike said. "This has taken us all by surprise, and blaming Martha isn't gonna help."
Silence on the phone.
"You're on vacation," Mike said. "Why didn't you go home, by the way?"
"I had two papers to get done, and I didn't want Mom to feel she should stay home with me instead of going to Washington to be with Dad, so I just stayed here."
"Why didn't Jeff go home?" Mike asked.
"I think we know why now," Matt said.
"How long before you guys have finals?" Mike asked.
"Three weeks of classes and then finals week. We should be finished in about a month," Martha said.
" 'K, then, here's my thought," Mike mused. "You tell Jeff that you've talked to us about the fact he's chipping, and have him call us tomorrow without fail. If he's really not shooting up, there's no reason why he can't get through classes, finals and the rest of the baseball season in reasonable shape. I don't want his semester wasted. Then I want him down here in Chicago. I'll have him evaluated, and we'll go from there. Does that sound all right to you both?"
"Yes," Martha said.
"Yeah," Matt mumbled, followed by, "I'm sorry I yelled at ya, Mart. This drug shit just makes me crazy!"
"I know, Matt. It's OK."
"Mike, heroin is no walk in the park. Are you sure we shouldn't get Jeff in a program right now?" Matt asked.
"I'd be more worried if it were crack. With heroin, if he's not shooting up, I seriously doubt that he's physically dependent yet. Psychologically dependent, maybe, but probably not even that if he's only been chipping for a month, give or take. So I think we have to monitor him, but let him finish out the year."
"Mike, is there anything special I should do about Jeff between now and the end of the semester?"
"Just the usual, Martha. You hafta take care of yourself and get through the year, too. Just see that he eats well and sleeps, if you can, but don't feel that you hafta be his keeper. When we talk to him tomorrow, I'm going to tell him that I want to talk to him on the phone every night between now and the end of school just so he knows we're on to him, and he's accountable," Mike said. "You did the right thing, calling us, by the way, hon."
"What about Mom and Dad?" Matt asked. "Do we call them?"
"I think we have to," Mike said. "They have a right to know, and I think we have a responsibility to tell them. Agreed?"
"Yes," Matt and Martha said simultaneously.
"Mart, you tell Jeff that if he doesn't call tomorrow, Matt and I will be down there to talk to him face to face by Friday, 'K?" Mike said. "And it won't be a pleasant conversation. After we talk to Jeff, Matt and I'll call Mom and Dad and bring them up to speed."
Uncharacteristically, Martha started crying.
"Don't cry, sis," Mike said. "We'll work through this. Jeff's gonna be fine."
"I'm just so relieved to have somebody to talk to about it," Martha said. "I'm scared for Jeff."
"Mart, we're a family!" Matt said. "We've gotten through some tough times together, and that's what's going to happen now. Don't worry, we're on Jeff's case bigtime."
"All right," Martha said, snuffling. "I miss the twins. How are they, and how are you guys doing?"
"We're great!" Matt said. "So are the boys. I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you that Mike and I are working on getting back together, and we want to raise the twins together. We haven't worked all the logistics out yet, but we will."
"I'm really happy to hear that," Martha said sincerely. "Mike, you've sounded so low every time I've talked to you since you guys broke up, and Matt, to be blunt, you weren't all that ecstatic about being married. I loved Sarah very much, but...I'm thinking this is a good thing."
"Thanks, hon," Matt said. "Other than Jeff's problem, how are you?"
"I'm good. My courses are all going well, and it looks like I'll be joining you guys on the Dean's list."
"Outstanding, Martha. We're really proud of you!" Matt said.
"Sis, I love you to death," Mike said. "You can't begin to know what you mean to me."
"Ditto, Mart!" Matt said.
"Thanks, guys, love you back. Talking to you has taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I'm feeling more hopeful now about Jeff. I'll make sure he calls you tomorrow. And sorry to get you up in the middle of the night."
"No, we're glad you called," Mike said. "Talk to you soon."
"Night, hon. Love ya!" Matt said.
They hung up. Matt went over and lit a candle under the crucifix for Jeff, saying a prayer for him. Then he walked back down the hall, checked on the boys, and continued to his and Mike's room. He shed the robe and slid back into bed.
Putting his arms around Mike, he kissed him and let out a big sigh.
"This bites," he said.
"Yep," Mike concurred. "But we're gonna bite back."
They fell back to sleep in one another's arms without further discussion.
* * *
The telephone rang about 10:00 the next morning as they were reading the paper in their shorts, drinking coffee and watching the twins play with Breakers.
"Hi, Mike, it's Jeff," the voice said, sounding a little reserved. "Martha said you wanted to talk to me."
"Hi, Jeff. Thanks for calling."
Mike motioned for Matt to get on another phone.
"'Sup?" Jeff asked.
"Don't shit a shitter, Jeff," Mike said quietly. "You know what's up."
"I 'spose you mean the smoking incident. Martha blew that all out of proportion."
"Really?" Mike said. "Why don't you give me your version."
"It was nothing, Mike, really. I was feeling tense, so I smoked a little H. It doesn't hurt to indulge once in awhile. You know that. You're in med school."
Matt interrupted. "If I were there, Jeff, I'd kick your ass!"
Mike spoke up before Jeff could respond.
"Matt, tone it down or tune out, dude," he said. "That's not helping."
"I can't help it," Matt said to Mike. "He's such a dumbass, he really pisses me off. That stuff is poison, and he knows it!"
"I..." Jeff started to fire back angrily.
"Matt," Mike cut in, "either listen and be quiet, or get off the fucking phone! I need to have a conversation with Jeff, 'K?"
There was a click, and Matt was off the line. He came back into the den looking dour and sat down with Mike.
"Jeff, you saved my life once," Mike continued. "I owe ya bigtime for that, and you know I love ya, and so does Matt, and so does Martha. I want you to tell me what's going on because we're all pretty bummed right now."
Jeff surrendered, at least for the moment.
"I've been chipping for about a month, Mike. Between classes and baseball, I've been really stressed out lately--it's just seemed as if there's no end in sight. It's just pressure, pressure and more pressure, and I'm fed up. So sometimes at night, I'll smoke a little so I can sleep."
"How much do you smoke?"
"Just a little, and only a couple times a week at night before bed."
"Where'd you get it?" Mike asked.
"Oh, I've been seeing this girl, and getting it from her."
"Is she a user?"
"Is she shooting?"
"Are you shooting?"
"No, Mike, I swear I'm not."
"Are you going to all your classes and practices?"
"How are your grades?"
"They're good. Unless I really drop the ball, I'll be on the Dean's List again."
"That's excellent! You doing all right on the field?"
"Coach seems pleased, that's all I can tell ya."
"How much do you know about heroin, Jeff?"
"Not a lot, except it calms me down so I can do everything I hafta do and not go nuts."
"Did you know that heroin is a cousin to morphine?"
"Yeah. An opiate. Great stuff when somebody's in physical pain. Terrible stuff when it's used to mask other problems. Do you have any idea what's causing all the stress in your life?" Mike asked.
"No, not really. Just trying to get everything done right."
"Well, eventually you're gonna hafta find out what's causing your pain, bud."
"Look, Mike, I can stop using this stuff any time I want. I'm no addict, for God's sake."
"Maybe, maybe not. I'm not there with you, so I can't say."
"Well, take my word for it."
"Wish I could, bro, but I can't," Mike said. "So I'm gonna set some guidelines for you between now and the end of school. First of all, I want you to call me at 10 p.m. sharp, your time, every night. If I don't hear from you, I'll be on the next plane down there, and you know I mean it. I'm going to be asking you about your day, and how you're feeling, and how you're making it. Do you understand?"
"Second, lose the girl. You don't love her, do you?"
"Are you fucking her?"
"She's history, Jeff. She's not good for you, and she has to go. If she wants to go into a remedial program, I'll help anyway I can. But if you don't give her up, I swear to God I'll take you out of school."
"Gimme a break, Mike. You can't do that."
"Don't test me, bud. A word to your coach and to administration about what you're into, and you're history."
"C'mon, you wouldn't do that!"
"Oh, yeah, I would! I care about you too much to watch you self-destruct. Will you stop seeing her?"
"Well, son of a bitch! All right, but this isn't right."
"It's very right. Now, let me continue. I gonna be sending a very calm, very rational, very under-control Matt around to see you at least once a day. Just to say hello. 'K?" Mike gave Matt a stern look as he described his requisite demeanor.
"'Cause I need him to give me all the good news about how well things are going for you, so when I talk to you on the phone, I'll be feeling really good.
"Have you been going to mass on Sunday?" Mike continued, already knowing the answer.
"All right, I want you to take 10 minutes out of your busy day, every day, and go to the chapel at Canterbury or the Newman Center and just sit. I don't care whether you pray, or play tiddlywinks. I just want you to sit in the silence there for a ten minutes every day. Will you do that for me?"
"I guess so."
"Next. I want you packed and in your truck on the way down here the minute you walk out of your last final. You'll be spending the summer in Chicago."
"Well, shit! What if I have other plans?"
"No," Jeff admitted reluctantly.
" 'K, my man, you do now. Is everything I've told you clear?"
"Yes," Jeff said sullenly.
"Good. You have any heroin in the apartment?"
"Flush it right now, and come back to the phone."
"Do it now, and come back to the phone," Mike said firmly.
Jeff slammed the phone down on the table, and Mike could hear him go to his bedroom cursing all the way, open and shut a dresser drawer, followed by the sound of a flushing toilet. Then he was back on the phone.
"Did you?" Mike asked.
"Good. Now, I know you won't like it, and I'm not gonna enjoy doing it, but I hafta talk to Mom and Dad about this."
"Please don't do that, Mike. I don't want them to be disappointed in me," Jeff said. "I'll do anything you want, just don't tell them. They'll freak."
"This isn't punishment, Jeff. I hope you know better than that. We're a family, and they need to be up to speed on what's going on. We need to support each other when we're in trouble."
There was a sigh on the other end, and then silence.
"There is nothing--nothing--that I won't do to get you straight," Mike said quietly. "Do you hear me?"
"All right. I love you, Jeff, and I owe you. This is no power trip on my part. Keep that in mind when I piss you off, 'K?"
"OK, I'll be waiting to hear from you at 10 tonight. You give this a try. If you don't think you can carry through on the things I've laid out for you, get in touch with me and we'll take another approach, all right?"
Matt held out his hand for the phone.
"Jeff, I'm sorry I yelled atcha. I love ya, and I want you to leave that shit alone. Don't be mad at us--at me--for being upset about this situation. I'll see you next Sunday night when I get back, and I promise I'll be cool."
"All right, Matt. I guess I'll talk to you guys tonight."
The phone went dead, and Matt and Mike looked at each other.
"You done good, bro!" Matt said.
"Thanks. I shouldn't have talked to you that way on the phone, though," Mike said apologetically. "But sometimes being angry at somebody with a problem just makes it tougher to talk."
"I know it," Matt admitted sheepishly.
"I've noticed before that you kinda lose it with Martha and Jeff when they aren't doing what you think they should. Well, really more Jeff than Martha. Why do you think that is?"
"I'm not sure. I guess it's because Jeff and Martha and I have been given so much in our lives that it bothers me when we screw up. We shouldn't screw up."
"Admirable, but unrealistic, bro," Mike said. "It's human nature to screw up, and you know it. Being blessed by God doesn't give you immunity from fucking up now and then."
"I know. It's just that imperfections are harder to accept when they're close at hand, y'know. You should understand that because you have so many of them," Matt said with a straight face.
"You're hilarious. But really, give a little thought to what's behind your anger, will ya?"
They sat there in companionable silence, sipping their coffee, watching the twins. After a few minutes, Matt looked over at Mike slyly out of the corner of his eye.
"Do you work for United Parcel Service?" he asked.
"Oh-oh. Does this question deserve an answer? No, I don't work for UPS. Why?"
"I thought I saw you checking out my package."
Mike took Matt's coffee cup away from him and put down his own, and lunged over and lay on top of his partner, pinning him to the couch.
"You're such an annoying dweeb, sometimes I don't know what to do," Mike said as he leaned down and kissed Matt, enjoying the sensation of heat and skin on skin as their bare chests and stomachs rubbed together. He gazed deeply into the dusky brown pools of his brother's eyes.
"I think you know what to do! Keep it up and it's gonna be real easy to check out my package."
"Not in front of the children, dear!" Mike said with a laugh as the twins gravitated over to the action on the couch.
Mike sat back up, tucking his incipient hardon up under the band of his boxers.
"Why don't we get the kids ready and go to the park for our run a little early?" Matt suggested. "Today it's my turn to leave you an exhausted, broken hulk along the path. Don't worry, I'll get the kids back here all right by myself."
"Dream on, dude, dream on."
Putting the kids into the playpen temporarily, they went back to their bedroom to put on their jogging clothes and shoes.
"Don't you want a clean jock, Matt?" Mike asked. "Seriously, the one I gave you must be ripe enough by now to be on the Center for Disease Control's most wanted list. Or give you jock itch, anyway."
"Jock itch will be something to remember you by when I go back to school," Matt responded. "I don't mind suffering for my memories. Anyway, all my bodily secretions and odors are under perfect control, as you well know. This jock is perfect. It's in better condition than when you gave it to me, in fact." He punctuated his statement with a exuberant fart.
"You're disgusting!" Mike said, but he smiled to himself as he bolted from the room.
They drove to the park and parked the Blazer. After putting the twins in their strollers and doing their stretching exercises, they hit the path pushing the strollers.
The day was warmer than it had been earlier in the week, and had brought a lot of college guys on vacation and wanting to exercise out to the park.
"Wow. Check it out!" Mike said.
"Yep," Matt admitted, admiring the three good-looking studs who went around them at a fast pace and continued on their run. "If I get horny, we may hafta have sex right here and now."
"You and your right hand, maybe," Mike said, moving out ahead with Matthew in his stroller.
"Ha!" Matt said, falling in behind Mike, watching his partner's beautiful ass move as the two of them fell into their early running rhythm.
Ten minutes later, finally starting to sweat, they accelerated the pace and started to feel the endorphins kick in. There was no breeze, and Lake Michigan was unusually blue and flat for a spring day. It was perfect.
After their usual five miles they ended up back at the Blazer, and then walked a bit to cool down. The twins were energized, as usual, and demanded to get out of the strollers. Released, they did some walking around on their own as Matt and Mike watched them, and then the guys packed the kids and their strollers up, and they went home.
Matt and Mike showered together again--to save water, Mike insisted. Then they and the boys ate some lunch, after which the boys got sleepy and conked out in their playpen.
"Well, shall we call them?" Mike asked, giving voice to what was on both their minds.
Matt groaned. "Yeah, let's get it over with. I'll get on the kitchen phone."
" 'K," Mike said, and punched his speed dial.
Branford answered the phone at home, and told Mike that Mrs. Broman had gone to Washington a day early to be with her husband. After chatting and finding out how he and Mrs. Brighton were, Mike hung up.
"Did you hear that?" he shouted to Matt.
"I'm gonna try the Watergate." Mike punched another speed dial number.
Jane Broman answered the phone.
"Mom? It's Mike."
"Mike! What a pleasant surprise! How are you, dear?"
"I'm great, Mom. Matt's here with me on the extension. How are you?"
"Your dad and I are fine, Mike. And Matt! This is a bonus! How are you and those beautiful twins?"
"We're all good, Mom. I miss you, and so do the boys. I thought spring break was a good chance to spend some time with Mike, so we've been down here in Chicago all week."
"I'm glad, sweetheart. I've been hoping that you two could be friends again," Mrs. Broman said.
" 'Friends' prolly doesn't cover it, Mom," Mike said. "Matt and I are working on getting back together and raising the boys."
"Well...you know I love you both, together or apart," Mrs. Broman said sincerely. "I always have, and that's not going to change. Any decision you come to will be just fine with me. I know the twins will be loved and well cared for no matter what. You deserve to be happy, and you have my support."
"Thank you, Mom. That means an awful lot to us," Matt said.
"Mom," Mike said, "we have something else we need to talk to you about, and I don't want you to get upset. OK?"
"What's going on, Mike?" Mrs. Broman asked.
"Well, we talked to Martha last night and to Jeff this morning," Mike said. "Jeff has a problem. But we have a plan, so I don't want you to be too worried."
"Spit it out, guys!" Mrs. Broman said apprehensively.
Matt cleared his throat.
"Mom, I guess Jeff has a little drug problem," he said.
"Go on," Mrs. Broman said.
"Martha caught him smoking heroin last night," Matt said.
"Oh, please God, no," she said, upset when she heard Jeff's drug of choice.
"Mom, he's not injecting it, and he hasn't been smoking it for very long, so I don't think it's as serious as it sounds," Mike said. "He was reluctant, but we worked out a way to hold things together until school is out, I think."
"What's the plan?"
"Well, first of all, he flushed the heroin he had in the apartment down the toilet while I was on the phone with him. He said he did, anyway, and I believe him. He's going to be calling here every night at 10 o'clock to tell me about his day and how he's feeling. Matt will see him once a day to check on him after he and the boys get back to school on Sunday. Jeff will be visiting the chapel at Canterbury or at Newman every day to get in touch with himself, and, I hope, get reacquainted with the Lord. And I've told him that I want him packed and in his truck after his last final and on his way down here to stay with me for the summer. I'll have him evaluated right away, and if he needs it, I'll put him in a residential program with good follow-up."
Mike deliberately omitted the fact that Jeff had been sleeping with with his supplier.
"Don't we need to take him out of school right now?" Mrs. Broman asked.
"In my judgment, no. I don't think he's addicted yet, and I don't think we need to waste his whole semester," Mike responded. "Matt will fill me in when he sees him. But Martha thinks he's still studying hard, and going to classes. Jeff confirms that, and says he's doing well in baseball, so I think things are going to be ok."
"Why would a good kid like Jeff do such a thing?"
"Mom, Jeff feels he's under a lot of pressure," Mike said. "And I think it's true. We all expect a lot from him, you know, and forget the toll it takes. I think a lot of kids today are susceptible when it comes to getting into drugs for that very reason, unfortunately."
"I think Mike's right," Matt said. "As angry as this whole thing makes me, we need to help him through this. I lost my cool with him this morning on the phone, and I'm sorry I did. I should have been more concerned about him and less about myself and my own standards when it comes to drugs."
"He knows you love him, Matt. And you, too, Mike. I don't know what to say about this whole thing. I'm crushed."
"Mom, trust us," Mike said. "We're on top of it, and everything's gonna be all right. Should we call Dad, or do you want to talk to him first? I know he's not gonna be happy."
"Let me talk to him first," Mrs. Broman said. "We're having dinner out tonight, and I'll tell him after we get home. He's probably going to want to talk to you before he calls Jeff."
"That's a good idea," Matt said. "Jeff doesn't need our anger right now, and I'm speaking as the biggest offender myself. We'll wait to hear from Dad tonight."
"All right. Thank God for you two boys and for Martha. Thank you both. I love you, and I miss you."
"We love you, Mom," Mike said. "You hold a good thought, now. Everything will work out fine."
They hung up, and Matt came back to the den and sat down with his brother.
"Man, I hated that," Mike said. "She's such a good person. I hate upsetting her like that."
"She's a sweetheart, but she's tough, too. We both have reason to know how amazing she is when the pressure's on."
"Yeah," Mike said. "You're pretty amazing yourself."
"Whaddaya mean?" Matt asked, pleased.
"You have heart, Matt. I've always known that about you. Even when I tried to hate you, I knew that. You really do want the best for other people, and to be a better person yourself. You don't ignore your own faults, you try to change. Those are wonderful qualities, and put them together and they make you easy to love."
"That's one of the nicest things you've ever said to me, Mike." Matt put a big hand on the back of Mike's neck, and looked into his eyes.
"I mean it."
"I hope you know I feel the same about you."
"Would this be a good time to talk about our plans?" Matt asked, sitting farther back on the couch.
"As good as any, I guess. I've been trying to figure out how we can make things work for us."
"Matt, I need to tell you right upfront that living without you and the twins for one or two more years until one of us finishes school just isn't in the cards for me. I've only been living half a life for the past three years, and I don't want to do it any more. It's wasting precious time that we won't get back."
"I agree. That's why I want to propose that the boys and I move to Chicago with you. I can probably wangle a transfer to Northwestern or the University of Chicago or U. of I.–Circle campus for my last year in law school. You have a great place to live here, and you have two more years of school yet, so I think that makes sense."
"It does make sense, but I hate like hell to ask you to turn your world and the kids' world upside down," Mike said reluctantly. "It doesn't seem fair for you to make all the sacrifices."
"Listen, bud, our roots, the boys' and mine, are here now because you're here. That's the bottom line. There's nothing I won't do to make this happen, and if I have to kiss pompous law school faculty ass from here to the east coast in the process, that's what I'm prepared to do."
"What about Jeff?"
"What about him?"
"He may need some support next year from somebody nearby who cares about him, although I don't know that for a fact yet. Dealing with Jeff isn't Martha's forte."
"If he needs us, your third bedroom can be reserved for him," Matt said. "I'll do anything for him I can, you know that, but I'm not separating the boys and me from you for another year. Period. Even another month is stretching it. If Jeff needs us, he may have to come down here for school next year, too."
"If I could, I'd move the whole family in here with us, you know that," Mike said. "Actually, I've had some thoughts on the space issue, even if Jeff doesn't need to stay here after the summer's over."
"There are two condos per floor in this building, same size. The one across the hall is for sale. We could connect the two, and remodel over there to provide a one bedroom apartment for a live-in couple to help us with the kids and housework, and add three more bedrooms to this apartment for family and guests. We'd even have room for a gym and playroom for the kids if we wanted one. If you and I are solid, I've been thinking about putting a bid on the place."
"Whaddaya mean, if we're solid. I'll give you solid in bed tonight," Matt said. "That sounds excellent. Let me bid on the place, though. I know we're gonna need some help with the kids. I have help with them during the day back at school, so we'll need it here, too."
"Do you have the money for a bid?"
"Well, yeah. On my twenty-third birthday I got the trusts set up for me by my dad and grandfather. The investments may still be in Dad's blind trust, I don't know. Anyway..."
"Awesome. Well, why don't I go ahead and bid on the place so it doesn't get away from us, and if you want to kick in later, you can. But you don't need to, y'know," Mike said.
"Yeah I do. We're partners, dufus. Let's not get confused on that issue."
" 'K. This is exciting, Matt. I think I'll call the realtor right now."
They high fived and Mike pulled his brother into a hug and then let him go.
"One more thing, Mike, before you call," Matt said seriously.
"Look at me."
Mike looked at him quizzically.
"I want to have our relationship formally blessed. I don't care if we have to go to Vermont to get it registered civilly, or know what church might be willing to do it here, but I want our partnership recognized. Will you marry me, Mike?"
Mike couldn't breathe for a minute he was so surprised. His eyes got huge.
"I'd be honored. I'd be thrilled to death to marry you," he finally said solemnly. Then he got a twinkle in his eye. "Shouldn't one of us get down on one knee?" he asked.
"I'll get down on both knees and bay at the moon if you want me to, bro. I love you totally and completely, and I want to be with you forever."
Mike scooted over close to Matt and took him in his arms. They kissed gently.
Matt reached into the watch pocket of his 501's and took out two silver rings. Linked letter "M"s circled the circumference of each, the effect looking a bit like an American Indian symbol from the southwest.
"These are temporary pinky rings I had made for us," Matt explained. "I also had rings made for our ring fingers to replace these when we take our vows."
Mike was dumbstruck. Matt took his brother's left hand and placed one ring on his little finger, and then handed Mike the second ring so that he could reciprocate.
"I...I," Mike stammered. "I'm overwhelmed. You take my breath away."
"You've taken my breath away since I was 18, dude," Matt said. "And I don't see that changing, ever."
They sat there on the couch, holding hands and regaining a measure of composure. Mike slowly rotated the ring Matt had just given him around on his finger, admiring it.
When they came down from their emotional high a bit, Matt handed Mike the phone.
"Cut a good deal on the condo, bud, 'cause I just got the best deal
of my young life!" he said.