Matt slowly awakened to a dull, rhythmic, pounding noise coming from the adjoining bedroom. He looked over at Mike, who was still sleeping soundly. The mysterious sound continued as Matt gradually gained full consciousness, at which point there was a horrendous crash from the boys' bedroom. Mike woke up with a start. He and Matt quickly jumped out of bed, pulled on their undershorts, and ran into the next bedroom.
They saw the three little boys, paralyzed in surprise at what had just happened. They were standing on Kyle's mattress, now lying directly on the floor, surrounded by the splintered wreckage of Kyle's new bed.
"Are you all right?" Mike asked. The boys nodded, looking stricken.
"What did I tell you about jumping on the bed?" Matt asked sternly. Silence.
"Not to do it," little Matthew finally responded, looking at the floor.
"Why did you do it, then?" Matt asked.
"We're sorry, Dad," Michael said. "We just wanted to try it out. We didn't think anything bad would happen."
"That's why I'm the daddy and you're the children. I knew something bad would happen, and that's why I told you not to do it."
"Are you mad?" Kyle asked. He looked as if he were about ready to cry.
"Well, I'm not happy," Matt said. "But I don't want any crying, either. You all go on into the bathroom and show me how well you can wash yourselves and clean your teeth. And no splashing water on each other. But we're gonna talk about this some more."
After picking their way carefully through the wreckage, the three little guys scampered into the bathroom. Matt and Mike could hear them whispering to each other as they started washing up.
Matt and Mike looked at each other and then down at the broken bed. Mike bent over in silent laughter.
"This little deal is exactly what you prolly pulled at their age, dude!" he said. "I wish Mom and Dad were here to get a good laugh. They'd laugh their asses off because the chickens are coming home to roost. God is just."
"Ha, ha, you're real funny, Mike. We can't just let this go, y'know. Whadda we do? They have to be punished."
"How about no TV for a week?" Mike suggested.
"Good thought!" Matt said. "I'm appointing you disciplinarian for the duration."
"No way! That's a shared responsibility, fer sure."
They walked back into their own bedroom and climbed into bed, pulling up the covers. Matt kissed Mike's cheek and pulled him close.
"Y'know, we've never really discussed how we think the kids should be punished when they get out of line," Mike said. "How did Mom and Dad discipline you?"
"I used to get an occasional spanking," Matt said. "But not very often. And I don't think I ever got hit after I was in third or fourth grade. How about you?"
"Pretty much the same," Mike said. "Do you think it was a bad thing?"
"No, I guess spanking was all right as an attention-getter," Matt said. "I don't think I was damaged by it in any way. But I'm not sure we want to take that path with these guys. Whenever I'm tempted to give one of 'em a swat, I can't help thinking that I'm so big and they're so little. We're responsible for disciplining them, but do we want to teach them, in effect, that big people get to hit little people? I don't think so. There has to be a better way to communicate."
"You're prolly right," Mike admitted. "My guess is that in the short term, without any fear of getting smacked, the boys may not be as compliant with what we want them to do sometimes, or as respectful. Maybe even a little mouthy and bratty once in awhile. But in the long run, I think not hitting them, even when they might have it coming, is a good thing. I don't think violence is a problem for us. But the problem for a lot of parents is that they just don't know how much physical punishment is appropriate or when to stop. It's too easy to get over into abuse and maybe not even know it."
"Yeah, I agree."
"Although, I hafta say, you'd be a much better boy today if you'd been severely beaten on a regular basis," Mike said, blue eyes sparkling. "When I spank ya, I'm only playing catch-up, and it's for your own good."
"Let's clear that up right now," Matt responded. "There is no better boy even remotely possible than the current version of me, you dork! So don't even waste your time thinking about it."
Then he felt a little finger poking him in the back.
"OK, Dad, we're clean," Matthew said in his little boy voice. Three damp, naked little boys stood beside the bed.
Before they could run, Matt reached down and scooped all three of them into bed between him and Mike. The boys started to giggle and wrestle with each other and the two adults. After they all got that out of their system, Matt turned serious.
"Boys, your Uncle Mike and I talked it over, and we decided on your punishment for jumping on the bed after I told you not to."
"Punishment? I don't think we need that, Dad," Michael said seriously.
"Well, sometimes you don't listen very well when I talk to you," Matt said, trying to keep a straight face. "This punishment will help you all remember next time when we tell you not to do something."
"But we already remember better," Kyle protested.
Matt and Mike had all they could do not to laugh out loud.
"I don't think so," Matt said. "All of you together ruined your bed, Kyle, and beds don't grow on trees. Your punishment is no TV for any of you for one week."
The boys looked at one another with big eyes, saying nothing, when Linda's voice was heard in the adjoining bedroom.
"What in the world happened here?" she asked out loud.
Matt smiled. Linda was on the job. She and Stan had talked with him and Mike last night, and the young couple said they wanted to stay on and help care for the kids. Linda had immediately moved her personal things into the condo's separate apartment and would gradually bring her other possessions from the little apartment where she had been living. Her lease was up, anyway. Stan would continue to sleep in one of the condo's regular bedrooms until he and Linda were married. It went without saying that Matt and Mike felt relieved to have help with the boys and the household chores, and were gratified that people they knew and cared about would benefit from the new relationship as well.
"You boys go to Aunt Linda, and she'll help you get dressed, OK?" Matt said. "And close our door behind you." The little guys climbed out of bed and headed out, their cute little bare butts in the wind. Through the closed door Matt and Mike could hear them loudly explaining the wreckage to Linda the minute they saw her, all talking at once and conveniently omitting the fact that they had specifically been told not to use the bed for a trampoline.
Matt and Mike picked up where they had left off, gently kissing and fondling and caressing one another.
"Love ya, Matt!" Mike said, looking into his partner's eyes.
"Same here, man." Matt raised the sheet and glanced down toward their feet. "Mike, you're taller in bed than when you're standing, did you know that?"
"I am not."
"Yes, you are. Oh, I'm sorry, I should've explained I'm talking about your dick, not your overall height."
"Well, I guess since you're all dick, that makes you really tall in bed."
Matt rolled over on top of Mike, kissing him soundly. "That insult tells me it's time for a story. You need one to straighten out your thinking. It's been awhile."
"Why do you want to spoil a tender moment?"
"It's not that tender. Besides, I'm always looking out for your best interests, even when I have to sacrifice my own," Matt said. "You'll like this one!"
"Two guys are in a locker room after their racquetball game when one
notices the other has a cork in his ass.
"'If you don't mind my saying,' said the second, 'that cork looks
terribly uncomfortable. Why don't you take it out?'
"'I can't,' lamented the first man. 'It's permanent.'
"'I don't understand,' said the other.
"The first guy says, 'I was walking along the beach and I tripped over
oil lamp. There was a puff of smoke, and then a huge man in a turban came
"'He said, "I am Hassan the Genie. I can grant you one wish.'"
"'And I said . . . . . ."No shit?"'"
"That didn't do it for me, Dude!" Mike said, struggling not to smile. "Whadda we do now?"
Matt lowered his head and bit Mike's right nipple hard, and then jumped out of bed, running for the shower. Mike followed close on his heels, his hands formed into pinchers ready to grab his partner's tight butt.
"I love your ass, Matt," Mike said, climbing into the shower with him and hugging his partner from behind as they stood under the spray, his erect cock nestled in the crack of Matt's ass.
"What about the rest of me?"
"My ass and the rest of me appreciate it. You're such a horndog."
"Well, yeah. How'd you know?"
"Your eyes are glowing red."
Mike dropped to his knees behind Matt and began repeatedly to run his tongue from just behind his partner's balls to the top of his crack and down again as his brother groaned appreciatively and leaned with both hands against the tile. Then Mike got down to some serious rimming, thoroughly penetrating his partner's tight sphincter time and time again. After he had probed Matt's ass for a time, spurred on by a lot of enthusiastic verbal support, he quickly turned him around and deep throated his hardon in one quick motion. Matt could feel his partner's throat muscles constricting around the head of his cock, milking it of its abundant, leaking precum. Matt didn't last long. Thrusting in and out the warm cocoon of his partner's mouth, he was soon flooding Mike with thick ropes of cum, some of it running out of the corners of Mike's mouth only to be washed away in the spray of the shower. Weakened by the intensity of his orgasm, Matt dropped to his knees, clasping Mike, kissing Mike, tasting his own seed in Mike's mouth.
"Primo!" Mike said.
Then Mike stood up, and Matt fellated him, bringing him to the brink several times and then backing off the intensity before ultimately letting him fill his mouth with his essence. Weakened the intensity of their lovemaking, they sat on the floor of the shower holding one another tightly under the stinging spray for some minutes. Eventually they stood to wash each another gently. When they left the shower and toweled off, they were glowing, smiling and relaxed.
"When I think I couldn't possibly love you or appreciate you more, you prove me wrong," Matt said as they dressed.
* * *
Mike was on the telephone later that morning with Dr. Ann Roncalli, a senior researcher at the University of Chicago who was conducting some successful tests geared to winning FDA approval for a new cancer treatment. Mike had been impressed with the middle aged physician when she guest-lectured one of his classes on the side affects of chemotherapy.
Dr. Roncalli agreed to see Mary Bradford in two days when Mike filled her in on Mary's medical history and prognosis. The doctor thought that Mary would fit in nicely with the trials soon to be underway, and that her condition might address the efficacy of new drug combinations in a way that other participants did not. Mary then called her physician in Hartford, and had her records and test results overnighted to Chicago.
Meanwhile, Matt was working on an agenda of his own. In his usual head-on way of addressing issues, he had decided to call the handful of straight friends he and Mike had made in Chicago to see if, now that he and Mike were outed, they could still be counted on as friends.
He thought he'd start at the top, so he picked up the phone and called the Mayor's office Working his way through the city hall bureaucracy, he finally heard the official's distinctive voice come on the line.
"'Morning, Matt. What can I do for you?"
"Nothing specific, Mr. Mayor, except to spare me a minute of your time, sir."
"You've got it."
"You heard about the trial in Connecticut?" Matt asked him.
"Yes, I did. It was on all the networks and was front page stuff here a few times."
"You know, then, that my adoptive brother Mike and I are gay partners?"
"Yes. I have to admit I was surprised."
"Are we still friends?" Matt asked bluntly.
The Mayor chuckled softly.
"You cut right to the chase, don't you?" he asked.
"Yes, sir." Matt said.
"Yes, Matt, we are," the older man said thoughtfully. "I've never forgotten what you and Mike did for that family trapped underwater in their car when you first arrived in Chicago. Were you and Mike partners at that time?"
"Well, you both showed us pretty conclusively what you're made of by saving lives at the risk of your own. Those qualities haven't changed, or at least I'd be surprised if they had. To be blunt, I applaud people for what they accomplish and don't worry too much about who they're screwing at the moment. I couldn't begin to describe, in a civilized conversation, what I understand to be some of the more diverse sexual practices of the members of the Chicago City Council that have come to my attention over the years. They make you and Mike look pretty conservative." The Mayor laughed. "I guess what I'm saying, Matt, is that you and Mike will always be in my good books. People with heart and courage are in short supply. So, please count me among your friends, and I hope you feel the same. I just don't have time to stew about people's sex lives."
"That means a lot to me, Mayor, and I know it will to Mike," Matt said.
"I'm glad you called. And by the way, how did the Park District berth for your brother Jeff work out this Summer?"
"Great, actually. He's loved it. We appreciate your help in getting him plugged in."
"Glad to do it. And give your dad my best when you talk to him. Tell him I admire his Court opinions. He has a heart for the people. I just wish his colleagues thought about things as clearly as he does."
"Thank you, sir. I'll pass that along. And thanks for talking with me."
"You're welcome, Matt. Take care."
The phone went dead. Matt looked up Tony Angelo's number, and called him. The desk sergeant told him that Captain Angelo wouldn't be back in the "house" until roughly 10 p.m., with his watch beginning at 11:00. Matt said he'd call back, and went to tell Mike about his conversation with the Mayor.
Mike was pleased, but professed not to be surprised. "Can anyone resist your charm?" he asked.
"Hmmm. Well, I've known a few," Matt said.
"Not me, Dude. You're something else."
Matt went to get Jeff, his lifeguarding now over for the Summer, and they took off to buy another bed for Kyle. That gave them a chance to talk.
"I gotta leave for school by Thursday," Jeff said as he drove his truck out of the garage.
"Yeah, I figured it would be pretty soon."
"I just want you to know how much being here this Summer has meant to me, Matt. You know I didn't want to come over here, but it's been great. I don't know how I can ever repay you and Mike for helping me when I was in trouble."
"I could go through the whole family bit again, how we have to take care of one another and so on. And that's all true. Suffice it to say, Mike and I love ya, Jeff. I know we don't come out and say that often enough, but we do. It would hurt us if anything bad happened to you."
"I love you guys, too. But there's something else I need to thank you for."
"What's that?" Matt asked.
"Being here gave me a chance to meet Andie and get to know her. I think I love her. Really love her. I think about her all the time."
"She's special," Matt admitted. "Being apart this school year will prolly help you sort out how you really feel about each other, as tough as being separated will be."
"Yeah, maybe." Jeff eased away from a traffic light. "Uh, I wanna let ya know. I think Andie and I are gonna spend the night together tomorrow night, so I won't be home. We're gonna get a hotel room."
"Oh," Matt said. Silence. "I don't mean to pry, but is this something she really wants?" Matt asked.
"Oh, yeah. Just as much as I do. This will be our first time together."
"You're not doing this just because you think it will be easier to hang on to each other while you're separated, are you?
"To be honest, there's prolly some element of that in our decision. But the main thing is, that we care for each other so much...I can't tell you how much. I've never felt this way before about any of the women I've dated, believe me."
"Well, Jeff, this is all up to you two. Just don't hurt her if you have the least suspicion that this may not be a long-term relationship, 'K? She's too nice. And she can stay with you at the condo rather than having you get a motel room, if you'd both feel comfortable doing that. Mike and I trust you to be responsible. Hell, you are a responsible person. In fact, if she wants to, and only if she feels OK about it, Mike and Linda and Stan and I will fix a nice dinner for you guys if you want to stay home rather than going out to eat. You and she can eat in the dining room, and we'll all stay out of the way all night. You can use the pool and the sauna and hot tub and all that."
Jeff, moved, swallowed hard.
"Sometimes you amaze me, Matt. Thanks. That's really nice of you. I'll ask her. Whatever happens, I hope you'll let me come over from school a lot to see her and all you guys."
"Anytime, bud. You know that. And hog-tie Martha and bring her along, too."
"You got it!" Jeff said, and the conversation veered off to other things are they neared their destination. They reached the store, bought the new bed, loaded it into the truck, and headed for home. After arriving and carting it upstairs, they let the kids "help" them set up Kyle's new bed, concluding with a stern warning by Matt to the boys against any more trampolining.
* * *
About 11:00 that night, after he and Mike had run and showered, Matt called Tony Angelo at the precinct where he was watch commander. The desk sergeant put him through.
"Captain Angelo," the familiar voice said.
"Tony, Matt Broman."
"Hello, Matt Broman. How are you?" Matt thought Tony sounded a bit reserved.
"Good, Tony. I had a busy Summer, as you might have heard on the news, but everything turned out well."
"Yeah, I followed what happened in Hartford."
"That's kind of why I called. You know now that Mike and I are partners as well as adoptive brothers. In fact, we went up to Vermont and had our partnership legally registered after we were finished in court in Connecticut. I reason I called you is, I wanted to know whether we're still friends now that you know we're gay."
Tony cleared his throat.
"I won't lie to you, Matt. I don't think I'll ever feel the same about you and Mike again, even though I'll always respect what you did for that family on Lake Shore Drive. But the gay lifestyle goes against everything I believe and stand for in life. I don't think it's right, and I can't accept it."
Matt was taken aback.
"I feel bad about this," he said. "What is it that you can't accept?"
"Practicing homosexuality is against God's law, Matt. I'm not the best Christian in the world, but it's just not natural. It's perverted. The Church says so."
"So you think God creates gay people, and then condemns us all to celibacy, is that right?"
"I don't think God creates gay people. Gay people make the choice to be what they are. You were married and have kids. I think you know exactly what I'm talking about."
"I won't say that there is never some choice involved for some people, Tony, but some homosexuals know they're gay even before puberty. How do you explain that?"
"I can't explain it, if it's true at all. I don't have to explain it."
"Well, let me ask you this. How would you react if you had been told by society from Day 1 of your puberty that despite all of your human instincts to fall in love and enjoy the close companionship of another person, you were condemned never to experience those things? How you you like it if you could never touch or be touched in a loving, sexual way by another human being?"
"Priests live that life all the time," Tony said.
"Yeah, right, but many, maybe the majority, live in misery as a result of their vows. Or can't keep that particular vow at all. Individuals are sometimes called to be contentedly celibate. And even if you think celibacy is a natural thing--I don't think it is for the vast majority--I'm not a priest."
"We could argue about this from now until the end of time. I just can't accept your lifestyle, Matt. You could do better."
"Well, actually, I appreciate your honesty, Tony. Some people would have gamed me by saying homosexuality is no problem for them, and then called me 'faggot' behind my back. You may not want Mike and me for friends, but we are your friends, and we're going to continue to be your friends no matter what you say. I've always seen you as a good person and a kind person, and that perception isn't going to change.
"Just to let you know," Matt continued, "Mike and I registered our partnership in Vermont last month, as I said, and we think we've found an Episcopal priest here in Chicago to bless our partnership in church. We're going to send you an invitation for that, and I hope you and your wife will come. If you don't, that's OK, too. Just don't write us off before all the evidence on homosexuality comes in, all right? We're good people with good values, just like you."
"I can't really deny that, Matt. I need to wrestle with this issue some more, I guess. I hope you know that my personal views never affect the way I do my job. I treat everyone just the same when it comes to the law."
"I don't doubt that for a minute, Tony. Thanks for talking with me. I'm not giving up on this friendship, and I'll be calling you every so often just to check in."
"Take care, Matt. Say hello to Mike."
The phone went dead and Matt began to reflect on the conversation. He felt a little down as he went to tell Mike what Tony had said.
* * *
Bad news frequently comes late at night.
After Matt and Mike had been asleep for several hours that night, the phone rang. Mike glanced at the clock on the bedside table as he answered it. 2 a.m. Matt woke up and listened to his partner as Breakers yawned widely and watched both of them with sleepy eyes from his vantage point at the end of the bed.
"Is this Michael Broman?"
"This is the Evanston Hospital Emergency Room, Mr. Broman. One of our patients, Sean Garrity, had a card in his wallet instructing that you be notified in case of emergency. Mr. Garrity's being hospitalized."
"I see. Can you you give me the cause for hospitalization and what his condition is?"
"No, sir, I can't discuss it over the telephone."
"Do I need to come to the hospital now?"
"Yes, sir, I think would be wise under the circumstances."
"I'll be there in 20 minutes. Thank you for the call."
Mike put the telephone in its cradle, groaned, and snapped on his bedside lamp.
" 'Sup, Mike?" Matt asked.
"Sean Garrity's in the Evanston Hospital Emergency Room and they're going to hospitalize him. They won't tell me why or what his condition is, but I need to go up there."
"OK," Matt said as he rolled out of bed and began to dress.
"You comin' with?" Mike asked.
They dressed in silence.
"I think I'll call Stan and ask him to sleep down here 'til we get back," Matt said.
"Ask Jeff," Mike said. "Stan has to work tomorrow, er, I mean today, actually, and Jeff doesn't."
Matt nodded and dialed the extension in Jeff's bedroom.
"Yeah?" a sleepy voice answered.
"Jeff, Matt. Listen, bro, can you come down to Mike's and my room and sleep here 'til we get back? We have to go to the Evanston hospital emergency room to see a classmate of Mike's, and I don't want the kids to be down here in this part of the condo without an adult nearby."
"No problemo. Be there in a sec."
Matt and Mike slipped flannel shirts over their T's, put on baseball caps, and headed down the hall. They passed Jeff shuffling by in his bathrobe and briefs.
"Uhhhph!" Jeff groaned at them as they went by.
"Uhhhph!" they groaned back.
They drove north through the darkness for 20 minutes and arrived at the hospital. They parked and went in the emergency entrance.
"Help you?" asked a female nurse at the reception desk.
"Yes," Mike said. "We were called and told that there's a Sean Garrity here for emergency treatment."
"Let's see," the nurse said as she looked through forms on the desk. "Yes. He's in one of the treatment rooms until they move him upstairs."
"Can we see him?" Mike asked.
"Let me check with the doctor," the nurse said, leaving reception and walking down the hall.
A moment later she came back down the hall and beckoned to Matt and Mike.
"You can have a minute with him, but he won't be able to respond to you. He's in a coma. The doctor's in with him. He'll tell you the rest. Third door on the left."
Matt and Mike continued down the hall and entered the door the nurse had identified. Swathed in bandages, Sean lay in bed with his eyes closed as a young doctor stood nearby watching several monitors.
Mike's face turned white with shock as he looked at the obvious signs of injury to his friend. Matt was speechless.
"Hello," Mike said, offering his hand to the young doctor on duty. "I'm Mike Broman and this is my brother, Matt. We're friends of Sean. What happened to him?"
"Don Radtke," the doctor said, shaking hands with both of them. "Apparently your friend was beaten as he left a bar over on Halsted Street. Whoever it was did a real job on him, probably with a rebar or baseball bat. He has a concussion and is in a coma. Multiple contusions and abrasions. Two broken ribs on the left side. He also has a fractured left humerus and ulna, and a fractured right tibia. We're just getting ready to take him for a cranial MRI, then to surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain."
"What?" Matt demanded of the doctor, shaking his head and red with anger about what had happened to Sean. "I can't think of what all those bones are right now."
"Broken upper and lower left arm, and broken right lower leg," Mike explained.
"You know your bones," Radtke said.
"I'm a third year med student at Northwestern," Mike said. "So's your patient, as a matter of fact. Did the police take a report?"
"Yes. They pieced together what they could without an eyewitness or victim account. From the location of the bar he apparently came out of, the cops think this may have been a gay bashing."
"Shit!" Matt said involuntarily. "I knew it."
"Yeah," Radtke said. "Listen, it's going to be hours before we know anything definite. If and when he regains consciousness, he should be OK eventually. But there's a big 'if' there. So why don't you remind the front desk that you're to be contacted with any significant change in Mr. Garrity's condition."
"All right," Matt said. "Just give us a minute." Placing one hand gently on Sean's bandaged head as he took Mike's hand, Matt said a silent prayer for Sean. Then he and Mike went to the front desk and conveyed the doctor's instructions to the nurse. Mike asked to look at Sean's wallet, and went through it quickly to look for his dad's or brother's address. He found an old ID card with the father's address and wrote that down. He suggested that should Sean's condition worsen, staff call him and he himself would get in touch with the senior Mr. Garrity, if needed. The nurse put that information on the chart.
"I 's'pose we should look for his car over on Halsted," Matt suggested to Mike. "If we don't, it'll be gone by morning."
"Yeah," Mike agreed. "Do you have Mr. Garrity's keys?" he asked the nurse.
She tipped the large manila envelope from which she had taken Sean's wallet and tipped it upside down. Money and keys cascaded on to the desk.
"I'm going to take these keys," Mike said. "His car is on the street and needs to be garaged."
"All right," the nurse said, making a notation on the envelope about Mike taking the keys.
They left the emergency entrance and walked toward the truck, Mike sorrowing and Matt still seething.
Matt suddenly stopped walking, grabbing Mike's arm and swinging him around.
"Aren't you pissed off about this?" he asked.
"Of course," Mike said. But I'm more focused on whether Sean is going to make it right now."
"This shit has to stop, Mike."
"I agree. Whaddaya wanna do?"
"I don't know yet, but I know that where this happened on Halsted is probably in Tony Angelo's precinct. I think we're gonna find out whether Captain Angelo really does pursue justice for victims with a blind eye as far as sexual orientation is concerned."
"Well, you know I'm with ya on whatever you want to do, bro," Mike said. "But getting back to Sean, I didn't want the hospital to call Mr. Garrity unless it's absolutely necessary," Mike told Matt as they walked. "The family haven't been close, and from what Sean has said, he's not out to them at all. If his dad finds out this may have been a gay bashing, Sean's cover is blown."
"Well, you know it's going to hit the papers. So much for Sean's being in the closet. I'm so fucking pissed off about this whole thing I can't see straight," Matt said. "A gay young man in a world class city in this country can't walk out of a bar without being fearful for his life? I don't accept that, and I intend to do something about it."
Mike shook his head woefully. They walked to the truck, and drove down Ridge to Devon and over to Halsted Street. South of Devon on Halsted, they began to check out both sides of the street. A few blocks down they saw Sean's silver Boxster and pulled to a stop.
"You wanna drive the Boxster?" Mike asked.
"You do it. I'll drive the truck."
" 'K," Mike said as he started to vacate the driver's seat.
"Hey, maybe we should shop for Jeff's and Andie's dinner for tonight as long as we're out and about," Matt suggested before his partner shut the door of the truck.
"What dinner?" Mike looked at him blankly.
"Shoot, I didn't get a chance to tell you. Jeff was going to take Andie out to dinner tonight and they were going to get a hotel room for the night. I suggested that if they both felt the relationship had progressed to the point they wanted to take it to a new level, that you and I and Linda and Stan would fix them a nice dinner and serve them in the dining room, and that they could stay over in Jeff's room at the condo if they felt comfortable doing that."
"Well," Mike finally said, "Andie's a keeper, that's for sure. Jeff's done everything we've asked of him in putting the heroin problem behind him, and more. They're both great kids, and responsible kids, so it's OK with me. They're going to do what they want to do anyway, you know that."
"Yep. I agree. Andie is special, and I think she's one reason that Jeff has matured so much this Summer. So let's make things as nice for them as we can. Ya wanna follow me to the store?"
" 'K. Ya know, in spite of all your humongous flaws, I love ya, Matt," Mike said as he headed for Sean's car.
"Same here, bud."
Standing beside the Boxster, Mike fiddled with the key fob, punching the button to turn off the car alarm. He opened the door and folded himself into the driver's seat. Finding the ignition and inserting the key, the motor roared to life and then purred like a kitten.
Heading south, they approached an all night supermarket and pulled both vehicles into the nearly empty parking lot. Walking toward the entrance side by side, Matt pulled Mike over to him and kissed him on the cheek. They went into the store and did a thorough shopping. The place was deserted, so they were out of the store and on their way home in under 15 minutes.
They arrived home and carried the groceries upstairs and put them away. It was now 4 a.m. They went to their bedroom, where Jeff was sound asleep in the middle of their bed, snoring softly. Matt gave him a shake, but he didn't wake up. Mike shrugged his shoulders. He and Matt stripped to their undershorts, and climbed into bed on either side of Jeff. They had themselves a Jeff sandwich going, and their little bro didn't even wake up to appreciate it. Matt and Mike dropped off to sleep almost instantly.
* * *
The three guys woke up about 9 a.m. the next morning, much later than usual. Jeff looked at Matt and Mike with amusement when he awakened between the two of them.
"All right," Jeff said with a grin, "this is cozy. Are you guys trying to turn me to the dark side, or what?"
"Nah," Matt said, lifting the sheet and looking down Jeff's body at the giant woody in his brother's briefs. "On the other hand, you are really hot. Will Andie share, do you think?"
"No way! She's funny about that," Jeff said.
"Matt, no more peeking under the sheets for you, dude," Mike said. "This is the second time today your eyes have been wandering around under the sheets a little too freely."
"Hey, you guys are my brothers," Matt protested. "Whose eyes have more right than mine?"
Jeff reached over and scooped Matt up as if he were nothing, and moving himself to the edge of the bed, plopped him down in the middle between him and Mike. Holding Matt down, he and Mike began to tickle him mercilessly. By the time they stopped, Matt was laughing until the tears ran down his cheeks. They contemplated their victim.
"I'll get you both for this!" Matt threatened, red-faced. "That was uncalled for!"
"I thought I heard a call for it, didn't you, Jeff?" Mike said.
"Oh, yeah. Clear as a bell," Jeff agreed.
"Anyway, thanks for watching the kids, Jeff," Mike said, changing the subject. "Although the place could prolly have burned down and I doubt if you'd have known it, you were so fast asleep. We tried to wake you up when we got back, but you were out, but good!"
"That's what happens when you have a clear conscience," Jeff said.
"I don't know about that in your case," Mike responded, "but thanks for babysitting, anyway."
"Who's in the hospital?" Jeff asked.
"Sean Garrity was beaten up as he left a gay bar over on Halsted last night. Beat up really bad. They don't know whether he's gonna make it or not," Mike said. "They used a rebar or something on him."
"Fuck!! That sucks! Why did the hospital call you?" Jeff asked.
"My name was in his wallet to be notified in case of an emergency," Mike said. "Sean's not close to his family, so. . ."
"Let's keep praying for him," Matt interjected. "That all we can do for 'im at this point."
"Yeah. I will," Jeff said, much to Matt's surprise, given Jeff's generally casual approach to religion.
"Hey, you guys up for a run to get the day back on track?" Jeff asked. "It's s'pose to be a nice day out."
"Sounds good," Matt said as Mike nodded. "Then we hafta come back and do some cleaning for tonight."
"Tonight?" Jeff asked.
"Yeah, your dinner with Andie. How soon we forget," Matt quipped.
"I didn't really forget," Jeff said as he sat up on the edge of the bed and started to put on his robe. "Your news about Sean just kinda drove it out of my mind for a minute."
Matt and Mike grinned at him as he stood up and adjusted his giant woody up under the waistband of his jockies, making no attempt to hide it. His penis stuck up two inches or more over the elastic. Jeff closed and tied his robe before venturing out into the hall.
"I think he's horny!" Mike observed.
"Shut up!" Jeff shouted back into the room. "I'll be ready in 5 minutes. Get your sorry butts up! I'll meet you at the front door." He headed out to his own room.
"Man, that kid's fucking gorgeous!" Mike said to his partner after Jeff was out of earshot.
"Yep, he takes after me," Matt agreed, getting out of bed. He stripped off his briefs and put on a jock.
Mike laughed and followed suit. After adding socks, running shorts, running shoes and T's, they met Jeff with Breakers at the front door and were on their way to the beach.
They all arrived back from their run in good spirits in about an hour, and after showering, read to the kids for a while in lieu of the forbidden TV cartoons. Leaving the kids with some coloring books, Matt and Mike explained the agenda for Jeff's and Andie's dinner to Linda, and asked her to assign them some tasks so they all could get the condo shipshape. She did, and they all went to work on the place. By 2 p.m., everything sparkled.
Linda and Matt then went to the kitchen to start the groundwork on dinner for Jeff and Andie, leaving Mike with the kids. Matt had bought a standing rib roast to be served with a creamy horseradish sauce, along with potatoes and bacon for a hot, German potato salad, tomatoes for stewing, and all the ingredients for a fresh, green salad. He'd known that the couple would want ice cream for dessert, so he'd bought a gallon of Breyers French vanilla to be topped with fresh, crushed strawberries. A bottle of Merlot was the wine of choice.
Linda had oh'd and ah'd over the fine-looking roast, and after coating it with fresh horseradish, put it into a roasting pan so it would be ready to pop into the oven.
Andie arrived at 6:30 that night, dropping a small suitcase in the foyer. She was wearing a satiny, navy-blue dress with straps, more dressy than casual, that showed off her figure and set off her eyes and blonde hair. Around her neck she wore a simple gold chain from which a single pearl was suspended. Her hair, still beach length from lifeguarding, was brushed straight back, and on her looked very classy. She wore matching shoes with medium high heels. Jeff was wearing a pair of gray slacks and a short-sleeve white shirt with a tie, and well polished black shoes. He looked like a handsome young jock traveling with an athletic team on their way to a competition.
Matt and Mike could feel the intense mutual attraction between Andie and Jeff the minute she stepped into the den. After they had all greeted one another, the two young lovers-to-be sat down on the couch in the den, holding hands and looking into one anothers eyes as Matt, Mike, Stan, who had arrived home from work, Linda, Mary Bradford and the kids went to the kitchen to make final preparations for the dinner.
"Jeff was like a bird dog on point the minute Andie walked in the room," Matt whispered kiddingly to Mike. "I won't say what he was pointing with."
Mike looked at him disapprovingly, and Matt shut up.
The roast was done perfectly, crisp on the outside and just a hint of red on the inside. Linda sliced about half of the roast for the platter, holding back a few pieces of meat, some horseradish sauce and side dishes for Mary. Linda and the rest of the kitchen crew were going to eat hot dogs with the kids, who were fussing and ready to be fed.
In the dining room, Matt lighted the candles in the candelabra while the others placed the food in serving dishes and brought them into the dining room with the bottle of wine, which had been breathing for the appropriate amount of time. He finished by pouring ice water into the glasses and dimming the chandelier. The table looked beautiful, and he smiled with satisfaction at their handiwork.
Matt walked down to the study and told Jeff and Andie that dinner was ready. The couple rose from the couch where they had been talking quietly, and Andie went to Matt and just kissed his cheek in thanks, saying nothing. She took Jeff's arm and they went to the dining room as Matt returned to the kitchen to help feed the kids.
Mary's plate had the same delicacies that Jeff and Andie were eating, and Mike made sure she ate a good meal. The kitchen crew could hear muted conversation from the dining room through the door to the dining room, but deliberately paid no attention. Matt would poke his head in the door every few minutes to see if the young couple needed anything, happily noting the beautiful and romantic scene as Jeff and Andie enjoyed their dinner together.
After dessert had been served and consumed, Jeff and Andie appeared in the door to the kitchen and thanked everyone for what they said was one of the best meals they'd ever eaten. Mary concurred with their assessment. Then the young couple went back to den and held hands on the couch while they watched some TV and let their meal settle before going up to the roof to swim. They didn't take any suits with them when they went up.
Stan occupied the boys with a coloring book at the kitchen table while the rest of crew cleared the dining room and cleaned the kitchen. When they were finished, Mary excused herself to go to bed after good-luck hugs from everyone for the next day's appointment with her new doctor. Mike gave her a thumbs-up, and she left the room smiling.
Everybody then scattered to his own space, leaving the condo to Jeff and Andie, as promised. Matt and Mike said their prayers with the boys, and read to them until the kids dropped off to sleep. Then they went next door to their own room and watched a little television until they also drifted off. Matt's last thought before oblivion was the hope that Jeff and Andie were enjoying their evening. And that he needed to call Arnie Watkins the next day and give him the bad news about Sean.
Mike roused Matt about 8 a.m. to go for their run. After Mike returned and showered, he and Mary set off in the Blazer for Dr. Roncalli's office at the main University of Chicago hospital. By the time they arrived, the doctor, a warm, buxom, friendly woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties, had already reviewed Mary's medical records from Hartford, and she ordered a few additional tests of Mary's blood and tissues before sitting down to talk with them both.
"I'm glad Mr. Broman called me about you, Mrs. Bradford. First of all, you appear to be a good candidate for the drug tests we're just starting with post-surgical breast cancer patients who are experiencing a resurgence of cancer. Basically, what we're doing is testing combinations of what have been effective single medications in and of themselves to see if they are even more effective in combination. We think they are, but have to prove it under FDA guidelines. If you agree to enter the program, we can put you on a new regimen right away. In fact, the timing for you is perfect. We have almost all our candidates selected. I make no promises, but I think we can help you."
"I'd be lying if I said I'm looking forward to it," Mary said. "But my physicians in Hartford didn't hold out much hope of beating this thing, so I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to survive. I have a lot to live for--Mike and his brother Matt are very dear to me, and I have three grandchildren here that I want to see grow up. So...I want to cooperate in every way possible with the treatment."
"Good," Dr. Roncalli said, smiling. "May I ask what your living arrangements are?"
"I live with Mike here and my former son-in-law, Matt, and the three grandchildren. And we have a young couple with us who helps with the youngsters."
"The reason I asked is that it's best not to be alone during this course of treatment. I'm hoping your reaction to the drugs won't be severe, but it's difficult to predict. So you may need some care."
"That's not a problem, Doctor," Mike interjected. "Should Mrs. Bradford need it, we can provide nursing care in our home around the clock."
"Well, let's not cross that bridge 'til we come to it. Let's think positively. Welcome aboard, Mrs. Bradford. I look forward to treating you. For approximately 10 weeks we'll need to see you every Wednesday morning so that you can receive your medication intravenously. Treatments take about an hour, and you shouldn't drive yourself home afterward. So if someone can drive you here and back, that would be ideal."
"We'll work out the logistics at home," Mike said. "But you can count on her being here. And thank you, Doctor. If you hadn't given that lecture last year to our class at Northwestern, I never would have known about this. I'm very grateful."
"Yes, thank you, Doctor. I'm very pleased to be part of the program," Mary said as they all rose. The doctor shook hands with them warmly, and they were on their way home. Mike felt good about the way things were going for Mary and told her so.
When they arrived home, Matt and the boys were in the den. The boys were coloring in their coloring books, and at Matt's suggestion were trying to improve coloring inside the lines while their dad browsed the morning paper.
Matt looked up in anticipation when Mike and Mary came in.
"What's the good word?" he asked.
"Dr. Roncalli accepted me in the program," Mary said with a smile. "I start a new treatment next week."
Matt crossed the room and embraced her, kissing her cheek.
"Yes!!" he said. "That's wonderful! I have a good feeling about this!"
"Me, too," Mike said.
Matt took Mary's coat and Mike's jacket and hung them up in the closet, and Mary went to her room to freshen up.
"Where are Jeff and Andie?" Mike asked.
"They went for a run," Matt said with a grin.
"Everything must have gone well last night, then?"
"You mean the sex?"
"Well, I didn't come right out and ask," Matt replied. "But they were mooning around all over each other this morning. They sorta had the look you get after I've totally exhausted myself in bed trying to satisfy you. That gives you some idea."
"Satisfy me totally? When did that happen? Was I in a coma? Maybe I was watching TV."
"Your mind is always in the gutter, isn't it?"
"Uh huh. Nearby it, anyway. Aren't cha glad?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
Matt paused. "You remember we have an appointment with Father Howard tonight to talk about his blessing our marriage, right?"
"Now that's something I'd never forget."
"I hope you'll be on your best behavior," Matt said, looking at his partner slyly out of the corner of his eye.
"You slay me, bro. You're worried about my behavior? That's a laugh."
"You have your moments, dude."
"Not enough of 'em," Mike said. "Any word from the hospital about Sean?"
"Anything in the paper?"
"Nothing I've seen yet."
"All right. I'm gonna run up to the hospital now, I guess. If there hasn't been any improvement in Sean's condition, I've decided I need to notify his family. If he doesn't make it, I don't want it on my conscience that I never contacted his own flesh and blood about his condition."
"Yeah, you're prolly right. I'd come with ya, but Stan and Linda are both working, and I don't want to saddle Mary with the kids."
"Don't be checking out any of those young orderlies," Matt instructed.
"Now why would I do that when I have perfection itself waiting for me here at home?" Mike asked. "At least that's what you keep telling me."
"I'm definitely right on that. And don't you forget it, my man."
Mike launched himself on top of Matt, laying him down on the couch, the newspaper crumpling between them.
"Ow! Look what you've done to the paper," Matt complained.
"You're irresistible, bro! I'm never sure when I'm gonna lose control."
"Control. I've been meaning to talk to you about. . ." Matt stopped talking as Mike planted a nice, juicy kiss on his lips.
They nuzzled each other contentedly, staring into one anothers eyes until Mike finally extricated himself and left for the hospital.
Mike called later to tell Matt that although Sean had not regained consciousness, his vital signs were improving.
* * *
The Rev. David Andrew Howard finished saying his evening office in the chapel of St. Stephen's Church at 6:50 p.m. that evening, and sat back in the pew for a few minutes to contemplate the crucifix carved into the reredos.
It had been a busy but fulfilling day for the the 26 year old priest as he had visited the sick and dying, taught a confirmation class, and even spent a few hours on paper work at his desk.
Even if he hadn't been dressed in his plain, black cassock with buttons running down the front and the clerical white tab at his collar, one would think of a priest when looking at him. He looked younger than his years, but appeared to be a very disciplined, very holy man who worked hard, prayed diligently and had learned his craft well. The somewhat loose fitting cassock did not completely hide a well defined chest and what appeared to be muscular arms and legs. There wasn't an ounce of fat on his body. The hair on his head was so short it looked shaved. He looked like the athlete he had once been in high school and college, even in clerical garb. Gazing out on the world through hazel eyes, he looked like a wholesome and together person.
Father Howard had received his theological training at the Episcopal seminary in New York City, and had served his diaconate and the first year of his priesthood there in New York prior to the time the rector of St. Stephen's asked for his demittal to Chicago. He'd only been in residence a few months, but he liked the parish and the people liked him, especially the youngsters. There had been instant rapport between him and the kids, who confided in him completely, even outside of the confessional. He was a powerful, down-to-earth preacher who pulled no punches in his sermons, but won people over to his views through his superior reasoning power, his vigor, his sunny disposition and keen and self-deprecating sense of humor. He was a very tough young guy, though, the proverbial steel fist in a velvet glove.
Matt and Mike rang the bell at St. Stephen's church office precisely at 7 p.m., and the priest unfolded his 6' 2" frame from his seat in the chapel and went to the office door.
"Hi, guys," he said. "Come on in."
"Thanks," Matt and Mike murmured, and followed him as he set off toward his office, a nicely paneled room with shelves and shelves of books.
"Let me have your jackets," the priest said, and hung them up in the closet.
Coming back, he motioned Matt and Mike into comfortable leather chairs in front of his desk, and pulled his desk chair around the desk so they were all sitting near one another.
"Thanks for coming in," Father Howard said. "I've been looking forward to getting to know you and talking about having your partnership blessed here at St. Stephen's."
"We're really glad you're willing to see us," Mike said. "I didn't get the sense that Father Rohm was too thrilled about the our request."
"That may not be true. You have to remember that sometimes a rector has to be more, um, circumspect than an unknown young curate like me. And he knows that I've been studying this issue of same gender marriage for quite some time and that I can see some virtue in the Church's changing its stance on blessing gay relationships. But before we get farther into things, why don't you tell me a little about yourselves."
Matt and Mike looked at each other, and Mike nodded for his partner to start.
"Mike and I met our freshman year in college when we became roommates. He and I were both there on athletic scholarships--mine for wrestling and his for swimming. We got along great. I was dating a lot of women at that point and having a good ol' time. I had no suspicion that Mike was gay until I found some stuff on his computer one day by accident, and confronted him. He admitted that he was gay, and said he was very attracted to me. He also said he wanted to move to another room so I'd feel more comfortable. I really liked him, gay or not, and talked him out of it.
"Not long after that, Mike's entire family was killed in a plane accident. I didn't know what to do and Mike seemed to go right from shock into depression, so I called my parents and they came over to school and picked us up. We watched over Mike, and Mom, Dad and I all went to his family's funeral. His dad was CEO of Berman Worldwide Engineering, by the way. Maybe you remember when this happened."
"I do remember reading about it," the young priest said. "It was a terrible tragedy. I'm sorry, Mike."
Mike nodded, saying nothing.
"Well, long story short," Matt continued, "my father and mother adopted Mike after serving as his legal guardian for awhile. At that point I began to face the fact that I had fallen in love with him, just as he had with me. I didn't know what to do about it for a long time, but I finally told Mike how I felt just before we started our sophomore year. Up to that point, we'd had no physical relationship at all.
"We were definitely partners in every respect through our sophomore year of school, and that Summer we came to Chicago to work as volunteers at Mother of Mercy Hospice not far from here. Are you familiar with it?"
Father Howard's face broke into a smile.
"They do wonderful work there!" he said. "I've met Sr. Angeline and Sr. Catherine, and they've accomplished great things with their program and the building they're housed in."
"I agree," Matt said. "Anyway, Mike and I were very happy volunteering there until I really got acquainted with the patients. Once that happened, every time one of them died, I went into a deep, blue funk. As I tried to work through my own feelings about death and dying, I fixated on a need to have children as a means of beating death. Don't ask me if that's rational at all, because I can't tell you. I met a girl at school and before long married her, naturally destroying my relationship with Mike and inflicting terrible pain on him. My wife was a great person, and I loved her dearly and completely, but I missed Mike in my life more than I can tell you, particularly after he graduated and moved from Pennsylvania to Chicago for medical school. Understandably, he wasn't too comfortable talking to me, even on the phone.
"My wife died in childbirth with our twin sons, Matthew and Michael. After trying to get Mike and me back in synch by telephone for a long time, and against Mike's wishes, I just showed up with the kids on his doorstep one Saturday morning. He let me stay that week--we were both on Spring vacation--and we started to rebuild our relationship from that point. I love this man with all my heart and soul, Father. He's a good and loving parent to our children. I've transferred down here to Northwestern for my last year in law school. We've come a long way back, and we feel so good about our partnership that we registered it in Vermont earlier this Summer. But we're both churchgoing people, and want to have our relationship blessed in church. What else do I need to add, Mike?"
"I think you covered it pretty well," Mike said.
"What do your parents think about your relationship?" Father Howard asked.
"They've both been totally supportive from Day 1," Mike answered. "I told them I was gay before they accepted guardianship of me, but I'm sure that when we told them we were a couple, they were really shocked about Matt's being gay. I think that was because of Matt's, uh, shall I say 'extensive' heterosexual dating history. But they've given us all their love through everything we've experienced, and so have our younger brother Jeff and sister Martha. We couldn't have asked for more on the family front than we've received. Our dad shared his thoughts on how people grieve certain events or conditions in their lives and sometimes lose themselves in grief over what can't be changed. He had decided that he wasn't going to do that because his firstborn son loved a man, and he hasn't. Mom--well, Mom has always been more concerned about our happiness--whether we have joy in our lives--than over anything else. What society thinks doesn't bother her, although she worries sometimes that being gay will make it harder for us to achieve our goals."
"It sounds as if you have a very unusual family," Father Howard commented. "What do they do?"
"Dad is a judge, and Mom is a partner and designer in a jewelry design company," Mike said.
The priest's eyes lighted up.
"Your dad isn't the Matthew J. Broman on the U. S. Supreme Court by any chance, is he?" he asked.
"Yes," Mike said.
"I've read some of his decisions," Father Howard said. "They are absolutely outstanding. I hope you know that. I can understand now why you've had such good support from your family."
Matt and Mike smiled.
"Matt, do you think you're really gay rather than, say, bisexual?" the priest asked.
"Yes. When I think back on my marriage, which was the longest sexual relationship with a woman I ever had, we were certainly able to satisfy one another emotionally and sexually. It was a good relationship. But the fact is, and I didn't realize this until after I was alone again after her death, there is a spark and a depth to my relationship with Mike, both in bed and out of bed, that I never had with my wife or anyone else. These labels are all a bunch of shit anyway, Father, you know that. People don't fit into precise niches very well with respect to sexual orientation. Maybe I'm a confused heterosexual or bisexual. I really don't care. All I know is that I love Mike deeply and completely, and I always will. I never stopped loving him when I was married. I know for certain that I'm a more complete person with him than without him."
"Have you ever been in any other gay relationships, or had gay experiences other than with Mike?"
"Mike, are you gay?"
"There's no doubt in my mind," Mike said. "I had dated and had sex with a lot of girls during my freshman and sophomore years in high school, being a big jock with an image to uphold. I had my first gay experience with a guy on my swim team when I was a junior, and that was it! For me, sex with a man was the real thing. I had sex with that same guy many times, but that was the totality of my gay experience until Matt and I became partners."
"What do you think about the gay lifestyle in general?" the priest asked.
"There is no single 'gay lifestyle,'" Matt responded. "If you want to talk about 'lifestyles,' plural, I guess I can give you my opinion."
"Mike and I are Christian men. We don't think God created us to be mindless, fucking machines chasing moving targets, and that would be true whether we were gay or straight. I try not to judge people. But being promiscuous doesn't put any of us in a framework in which we can test ourselves in a relationship and grow in it. And of course it's dangerous from the standpoint of disease, although a lot of people just flip that off. Are gays more promiscuous than heterosexuals? I'd have to say, yes, probably. But society and the church bear a lot of responsibility for that, in my opinion. If gays were supported in their relationships the way straights are, and the church held up for gays the ideal of being faithful to a same-sex partner, I think their relationships would be a lot more stable. That's why we're here talking to you, Father. We're asking the Church to bless and support this relationship. We're committed to being faithful to one another."
"Do you think the Church should just disregard the biblical prohibitions against homosexual acts?"
"Are you toying with us, Father?" Matt asked with a smile. "We've long since abandoned the Old Testament injunction requiring a man to marry his deceased brother's wife, and we eat pork, and we don't stone adulterers, and that's just a few things we've left behind. It was important for the Hebrews, who were outnumbered by their neighbors and wandering around lost in the desert, to encourage procreation and discourage sexual activity that didn't lead to procreation. I think we have to understand the context in which God spoke to His people in the Old Testament.
"As you know," Matt continued, "Jesus Himself was completely silent on the matter of homosexuality. And an unbiased reading of St. Paul's letters suggests that when he talked about the issue, he was really condemning ritualized homosexual prostitution, not necessarily homosexual relationships altogether. Blessing same sex partnerships shouldn't be a big stretch for the church, I don't think. After all, as Episcopalians, we aren't biblical fundamentalists."
Father Howard looked at Matt in surprise.
"I'm stunned how much you know about this, Matt," Father Howard said. "You put your case very well."
The priest stood and rolled his chair back to the other side of his desk and stood there leaning on its tall back.
"Here's what I'd like to do, guys. Yours is obviously a serious, stable relationship. I'd like to counsel with you a couple more times, touching on the same matters that we do when we counsel heterosexual couples. I'd like to administer a compatibility test, for example, although I suspect you've addressed a lot of those compatibility issues already. Does that sit all right with you?"
"Before agreeing, Father, there's one thing I want to know," Mike said. "Are you really committed to following through with blessing this partnership when we know there's going to be a big stink about it? Among others, what are Father Rohm and the bishop of Chicago going to say? If you aren't as serious about blessing our partnership as we are to have it done, I don't want to waste anymore time."
Father Howard's eyes opened wide in surprise.
"Mike, we priests bless rocks, we bless animals, we bless boats, we bless books. The list goes on and on. I give you my word that if you want to proceed with a Church blessing after our next two counseling sessions are successfully concluded, I'm going to find a way to make it happen."
Matt and Mike bumped fists, smiling broadly. Mike's smile disappeared quickly, however.
"Father," he said, "You've told us that you're serious about this, and I know you mean it. We do want you to take this seriously, but I want you to know that if this is a career breaker for you, we're not going through with it. The Church needs priests like you, and you're not going to be a sacrificial lamb for us. If the powers-that-be in the diocese of Chicago are going to be a really bad problem, I'm sure we can find a diocese that's more advanced in their thinking on blessing same-sex relationships or we can go to the Metropolitan Church for it."
"Mike's right," Matt agreed. We want to know what the consequences for you are going to be before we make final arrangements."
"I appreciate your thinking about me. But how are we going to know the consequences without going ahead?" Father Howard asked. "Haven't you heard that sometimes it's easier to acquire forgiveness than permission?"
"Yeah. But we want to know what you know as things move along, and then we'll make a final decision," Matt emphasized. "I'm sure that a few discreet inquiries will give you a pretty good idea how the rector and the bishop may react. Do we have an agreement on that?"
After selecting their next meeting date for counseling, Matt and Mike rose, retrieved their jackets, shook hands warmly with the priest.
A picture of Sean Garitty flashed into Mike's mind, and he stopped before he and Matt walked out the door and turned to the priest.
"Father, would you put a couple friends of ours on your prayer list?"
"Of course. What are their names?"
"Mary. She's beginning a new treatment for cancer. And Sean. Sean Garrity. He's in critical condition in Evanston Hospital from what they think was a gay bashing. It's touch and go right now."
"I'm on it, Mike. I'll stop up there tomorrow, and I'll make sure Mary's on our list."
Matt and Mike left the church office in good spirits, all things considered.
They kissed gently once they were in the truck, and on the way home talked about what they had to do to prepare for their big day.
"I like him," Matt said of Father Howard as their conversation wound down.
"Me, too. Do you think he's gay?" Mike asked Matt as they pulled into the garage.
"Father Howard? I don't have a clue, dude. My gaydar was never any good."
"Well, what good are ya, then?" Mike demanded.
"Oh, I'm good! I'll show you just how good in a couple minutes,
so hang on to your body parts, jockboy!"
This segment was way overdue, and I want to thank you doughty readers for your patience. I know it's difficult to maintain story continuity when chapters appear infrequently, but December really did me in. I'm going somewhere warm now to catch a few rays. I appreciate your support. DH email@example.com.