Still comatose, Sean Garrity died three days after being hospitalized.
His body systems shut down one after another despite every intervention his doctors made, and he was gone. It was the day before what would have been his and Mike's first day back in class for their third year in medical school.
Mike was distraught, his one satisfaction being that he had phoned Sean's family to tell them he was in the hospital. At least his father and brother got to see him one last time, although he was still in a coma when they had visited. Matt had also called Arnie Watkins, who went up to see Sean twice before he died.
Matt was angry. He was determined that the person or persons who had killed Sean would be caught and tried. On his way back from his own first classes at the Northwestern law school the day after Sean died, he drove up Halsted Street to where Sean had been beaten, and parked on the street. Slouching down comfortably in his seat, he sat in his truck for a few minutes, just thinking and looking around.
He noticed that across the street from the bar where Sean had been drinking, some old buildings had been torn down, and there was a new construction project underway. He idly watched the younger construction guys working shirtless in their hard-hats, boots and Levis in the early Fall heat as they prepared the site for fresh concrete to be poured. Rebars lay in piles according to length just inside the gates, which would be closed after the work day was over to protect the site from burglars.
Rousing himself, Matt went into the bar where Sean had supposedly been drinking before he was attacked and ordered a beer. He quickly found out that the bartender then on duty never worked nights, so there was no use pumping him for information about the night Sean was beaten up. The early afternoon drinkers appeared to be older than the usual nighttime crowd for gay bars in that neighborhood, so Matt just drank his beer and didn't make any effort to elicit information from anyone.
He went back to his truck just as the construction workers were streaming out of the construction site at the end of their shift. They were the usual collection of older men with beer bellies, and the ripped young guys he had watched earlier who had now donned cutoff T's that showed their abs in preparation for hitting the bars or going home. None of them looked as if he frequented the gay bars in this neighborhood. But looks could be deceiving.
The site foreman swung the gates shut when everyone was gone, locked them, and got in his truck and left. Matt casually got out of his truck and walked over to the gates. He observed that there was a big, commercial grade padlock on it, and the upper reaches of the gate and perimeter fence were strung with several strands of barbed wire. It would be tough, if not impossible, to get in without somehow opening the lock. He wondered how hard it would be for someone to pick the large padlock.
Retracing his steps and starting the truck, Matt turned his thoughts toward home. He knew that Mike would probably be feeling down. In addition to grieving Sean's death, they would be seeing Jeff off to school in Pennsylvania the next morning. Matt had confirmed for himself over the Summer that the almost grown-up Jeff was an all-round great guy and a wonderful brother, his lapse in using heroin during the last school year notwithstanding. He was going to be missed around the condo for his good nature, good humor, and, at least in Matt's opinion, his excellent jokes. Mike and Jeff had developed a special bond, and although Mike would never whine about it, Matt knew that Mike would hate to see him go. Matt resolved to keep things upbeat that night for Mike's sake.
When he arrived home, the boys came swarming out of the den and climbed all over him. He hugged and kissed them, and dropping his books, carried all three of them over to the couch. The kids had been watching cartoons, their TV privileges having been in due course restored after the bed-breaking incident, and they were ready for some action. The four of them wrestled from couch to floor and back again for some minutes before Matt told them he was defeated. The boys crowed with delight, and talking all at once began to tell him what they'd done during the day.
Matt heard the elevator door in the foyer open, and Mike appeared.
"Get Uncle Mike," Matt instructed, and the three demons zeroed in on their prey.
Throwing down his briefcase, Mike laughed as he threw the twins over his shoulders and held Kyle in his arms. Walking to the couch, he dumped them on Matt and lay down on top of all four of them.
"Ow, ow, I can't breathe!" Matt complained to no avail. The kids loved it as they got squeezed between the two adults. Matt and Mike snuck in a kiss during a break in the action.
"How ya doin'?" Matt asked Mike after the boys went back to watching TV.
"I've been better," Mike admitted. "But you know what? The whole world can turn to shit, but when I walk in the door and see you and the kids, things are good. That sounds pretty clichéd, but that's the way it is. So sue me!"
Saying nothing, Matt put his arm around Mike's neck and nuzzled him.
"We have an appointment with Father Howard tonight," Mike said thoughtfully. "At seven, right?"
"Well, why don't we go get our run in. I gotta study before we go."
"Yeah, me, too," Matt said.
Stan came in and sat down across from them on the raised hearth of the fireplace.
"Stan the man!" Matt said. "How they hangin'?"
"Side by side, dude," Stan said. "And pretty happy about it."
"Hey, this is your lucky day," Matt said to him.
"Oh yeah? And that's because...?"
"You're gonna start running with us today," Matt said. "For your first time, you can run part way and then start walking back. We should all end up back at the building at about the same time. Suit up!"
"Who's gonna watch the kids? Linda's working," Stan said.
"Let me check with Mary," Mike said. "If she's feeling all right, she'll be glad to do it." He stood and walked out into the hall and down toward Mary's room.
"I know we talked about this," Stan said, "but I don't know if it's a good idea to start running today or not."
"Buck, bock, bock, bock," Matt screeched like a chicken as the kids turned their heads and looked at him curiously.
Mike came back into the den just then, trailed by Mary. Matt stood up from the couch and greeted her with a kiss.
"How are you today, Mom?" he asked. "You're looking good."
"Thank you, sweetheart," Mary said. "I'm fine. I'll be glad to watch the boys."
"Suit up, Stanley!" Matt said. "We'll meet you at the elevator in 5."
Grimacing, Stan got up and headed for his room, wondering why in hell he'd ever admitted to Matt that he'd like to start exercising more. Not one of my better ideas, he thought to himself.
"Knock on Jeff's door," Mike suggested to Stan as he left. "See if he wants to go."
Matt and Mike went down to their room and stripped down to change into their running shorts.
"Why did I tell Stan 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes?" Matt asked Mike.
"Because every time I see your bod, I wanna have sex." Matt reached over and fondled Mike's cock, which started to stiffen.
"Tonight I'm telling Father Howard what a horndog you really are," Mike said, as he crammed his meat into his jock. "He'll prolly send you to a monastery for a month or so to regain some of your spiritual values before he'll marry us."
"I doubt it," Matt demurred. "He'll believe me when I tell him you flaunt your body in front of me to get me horned up. I'm sure he senses you're a slut behind those clean-cut, all-American boy good looks. Just a slut, through and through. A cute slut with a nice, tight ass."
Mike snorted, and finished tying his running shoes.
"Man, you do run your mouth," Mike said. "If you talked less, you'd be ready."
"Kiss me, and I'll shut up."
Mike grinned and did just that. They spilled out of their room laughing and went down the hall. Stan and Jeff and Breakers were waiting for them at the elevator.
"Jeffy Jeff!" Matt greeted his brother. "We gotta get you out on the beach one last time."
"I know it," Jeff said, grabbing Matt around his neck and giving it a squeeze. "This'll be my last chance for awhile to run your wimpy butt into the ground."
"Talk's cheap," Matt responded.
"You outta know," Mike muttered aloud, eliciting a laugh from the other three guys as they entered the elevator and it swooped them down to the first floor.
Down on the beach, they did their stretching exercises first, and then Matt, Mike and Jeff set a little slower pace than usual for Stan's sake. Soon they were into their rhythm.
This world may be shit, Mike thought to himself as he looked over at his brothers and his friend running with him. But it sure has its share of good times, too. You just have to appreciate 'em when you get 'em. And this is sweet.
* * *
"I'm sorry about Sean, guys," Father Howard said as he ushered them into his office that night. "I stopped up at the hospital to see him again this afternoon, and they told me he had died."
"Thank you, Father," Mike said. "I really appreciated your going up to see him."
"This is probably a stupid question," the priest said, "but are you guys all right?"
Matt and Mike looked at each other.
"No, I'm not all right. I'm feeling really down about what happened," Mike admitted. "Sean was a good person and a good friend, and he didn't deserve this, fer sure."
"I'm pissed, Father," Matt said. "I'm trying to figure out how I can make a difference in making sure whoever did this gets caught. And dealt with. How many Sean Garritys and Matt Shepards are going to be murdered before the assholes of this world, the haters, get the message that they can't do this to gay people!?"
"Matt..." Mike said softly, trying to calm him.
"No, Mike. I'm not trying to be offensive with my language, Father, but I'm very angry this could happen. I..."
"I hear that," Father Howard said. "Under the circumstances, do you want to postpone our session for a week?"
"Absolutely not!" Matt said. "Having you marry us in front of St. Stephen's high altar will be the greatest victory over bigotry I can imagine. So let's get on with it!"
"Let's go ahead, Father."
"All right. Let's go into the chapel for a minute first, then. I think we all need to get centered before we continue," Father Howard said.
He shepherded his charges into the chapel and knelt with them at the altar rail. A large crucifix was carved into the wooden reredos behind the altar. Suspended by a long chain from the ceiling, the sanctus light indicating that the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in the tabernacle gluttered overhead.
They knelt in silence until the priest began to pray in a low voice.
"Lord Jesus, we've come here to bring You our sorrow and anger and confusion over the death of our brother Sean. It's hard for us to bear the cruelties of this world, Lord. We see the heart of darkness in what has happened to our friend, and we turn to You to help us with our pain. We know You understand pain, Lord, because You are the ultimate victim as well as victor, then and now. You suffer with every victim of hatred and cruelty, and are with us in our hearts as we suffer, too. Just as You rose from the dead, give us a resurrection of the heart and bring us into Your arms of comfort and love. Accept our sorrow, and accept the soul of your servant Sean into your presence. Turn our sorrow to joy, Lord, in our belief in You. We ask this in Your holy name."
"Amen," Matt and Mike said. They rose from the communion rail feeling a little better. The priest embraced them both, and they all went back to the office.
They sat down and chatted about inconsequentials for a few minutes to ease their way into more important matters.
"Now," the priest finally said, "to get down to business, can you tell me something of what you each expects from your relationship, and what you think is appropriate for each of you to put into the relationship to make it endure?"
Matt and Mike sat there in silence for a moment, considering the huge dimensions of the question.
"I don't know where to start," Mike finally said. "I'm not used to putting my feelings about Matt out there for anyone but him. But given what's at stake for all three of us, I want to do this."
"Take your time. We have plenty of time," the priest said.
Usually so fluent, Mike began to speak haltingly. His eyes dampened despite his best efforts to remain unemotional as he spoke of his love for his partner. Words seemed inadequate as he tried to express the inexpressible, explain the inexplicable when it came to his feelings for Matt and how those feelings affected them as a couple.
"I know that most of the couples you counsel for marriage are relatively new to their relationships," Mike began slowly, "so their love is new and yet to be fully explored and tested. Everything about a new love interest is fascinating in the beginning. But Matt and I have a long history together. Mostly good, I'd say, but hardly new. We've had the opportunity to test each other, if that's the right way to put it, in more situations than you can imagine, good and bad.
"I fell totally in love with Matt physically the first time I laid eyes on him," Mike continued. "Only over time did I realize that for me, he's the total package, inside and out. I think we all know at our age that a great initial attraction alone between two people can't guarantee that a relationship will be formed or will last. And we know that men in particular, gay or straight, can be total whores unless we follow a code that encourages us to experience sex within a relationship and as more than just glandular release. Maybe you can name all the magic ingredients that keep two people in love together over the long haul, Father, but I can't. I do know that it certainly has to be more than just sex and more than just mutual dependence.
"What I'm really sure of is that Matt is the greatest gift I have ever received in my life. He renews me every day. I love him, I respect him, I admire him. He feeds my soul. He's my unfailing touchstone in motivating me to treat people the way human beings deserve to be treated. I'd kiss his feet in front of the whole world if he asked me to. His gift to me of himself, along with whatever I have to offer as a person, is what I put back into our relationship and into our life together. In return, he's made me strong and happy, and I'm grateful for that."
Mike glanced over at his partner. His face taut, Matt was staring down at the floor as tears coursed down his cheeks. Mike rose and went over to him, wiped his face with his handkerchief and kissed him on top of his head, still bowed.
The priest sat in his chair looking at them, stunned and deeply moved.
They continued and completed their session, and then parted ways.
* * *
When Matt and Mike arrived back at the condo after their session with Father Howard, they heard a cacophony of sound coming from the den the minute they stepped off the elevator. The TV was blaring, and Stan was sitting on the floor supervising what could have been the world's largest Lego construction project in Chicago. Legos were strewn all over the room, and a huge tower was thrusting up from the floor in front of the fireplace.
"Hi, guys," Matt said.
"Hi, Dad and Uncle Mike," Michael said. "How they hangin'?"
Mike grinned from ear to ear and Stan shook with silent laughter. Matt stood there with his mouth open.
"Michael, come here for a minute," he said quietly, sitting down on the couch.
"What did you just say?"
"I said, 'How they hangin'?'"
"Where did you hear that?" Matt asked.
"From you, Dad. You said it to Uncle Stan yesterday," Michael said.
Matt realized he had done just that, thinking the kids weren't paying any attention at the time.
"Do you know what it means?" Matt asked Michael.
"Commere, Matt and Kyle," Matt directed. They got up off the floor and came over to the couch, too.
"Boys, what I said to Uncle Stan is grown-up talk. It's not for little kids to say. Promise me you won't say it again, and I'll explain it to you when you're a little older, OK?"
"OK, we won't say it any more," the kids promised quickly. "Can we play some more now?"
"Yes." Matt rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"They soak stuff up like little sponges," Matt said quietly as he and Mike went to change into their customary Levis and T's. "I'm really gonna hafta watch my mouth."
"We all will," Mike agreed. "It's great watching them grow up, though. I'm loving it."
Later that night Matt and Mike hit the books hard after they had bathed the boys, said their prayers with them, and then read to them them until they fell asleep.
They went to bed themselves about midnight. Lying on their sides facing each other in bed, naked under a sheet and light blanket, the way they liked to sleep, they studied each other quietly as if they each were memorizing the features of the other.
"You make me hurt, I love you so much," Matt finally said quietly.
"I know. Same here."
"Can we talk for a minute?" Matt asked.
"I know this is kinda out of the blue, but if it's all right with Mary, will you adopt Kyle?"
Mike's eyes widened in surprise.
"Why, dude?" he asked.
"It isn't that I don't love him just as much as I do Matthew and Michael," Matt said. "I know you do, too. I'm just thinking ahead."
"I want you to have an established track record when it comes to raising a child just in case anything would happen to me. Nobody could deny you custody of Matthew and Michael then."
"Nothing's gonna happen to you," Mike protested.
"I know. But just do this for Kyle and for me, will ya?"
"You know I will if that's what you really want," Mike said.
"Thank you. I was hoping you'd say that," Matt said with a sigh of relief. "I've been thinking about it for awhile, and when we were at counseling, what you said about me and our relationship really clarified everything for me, including the adoption thing. You blew me away tonight with what you said, Mike. You were freaking awesome. I'll never forget it as long as I live." He reached over and smoothed his partner's blond hair back off his forehead. "I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed about my reaction, though. Sitting there blubbering like a baby in front of the priest isn't cool for a big, tough jock, is it? He must think I'm a real wimp."
Mike pulled him into a hug and kissed him gently on the lips.
"I didn't get that impression from Father at all. I think he understands better now that we have a solid partnership and don't have any barriers between us, bro," Mike said. "We don't put up a front for each other. That's just one more great thing about this relationship. I give Father Howard a lot of credit, by the way. He has the skills to get people to ante up what they're really thinking. He asked us a very key question for any couple to answer. It isn't easy to verbalize the way we feel about each other in front of a third person, but I think it was good for us. For me, anyhow. And necessary information for him to have. After all, he's putting himself at risk with the Church for our sake. I'm sure he's looking for some reassurance that this partnership is worth investing in."
"Are you gonna be all right about Sean? I know you're feeling down about what happened. So am I. But are you gonna be OK?"
"If it keeps bringing you down, talk to me, will ya?"
"I'm not done with the Sean thing yet," Matt said firmly. "I'm going to do something to catch the guy or guys who killed him."
"I don't know yet," Matt admitted.
"I don't want you putting yourself at risk, Matt. If you do, I'll kill you myself."
"Yeah." Matt stroked his partner's face gently and they were quiet for a minute.
"I'm not trying to bug you, but one more thing," Matt said.
"Jeff is leaving for school in the morning. You two are really close. I hope you're not gonna let his leaving get to you."
"I won't. I'm gonna miss the hell out of him, though," Mike admitted. "I think Mom and Dad are gonna be very proud of the man he's become. I sure am. I know Andie is gonna be upset to see him go, so we need to give her some support along the way, too, doncha think?"
"Yeah." Matt shook his head. "It's just like you to think of the other people involved more than yourself," he said.
"I learned that from you. Seriously. You know it's true."
Mike kissed Matt again and nestled against him, breathing in the good smell of his skin and hair.
Tired, they fell asleep quickly, holding each other.
For some reason Matt awakened about 2 a.m., and after lying in bed sleepless for a few minutes, got up and went to the den. Looking in a phone caddy on the telephone table, he dialed Tony Angelo's number at the precinct.
A desk sergeant answered the phone.
"Chicago Police Department."
"Captain Angelo, please."
"May I tell him who's calling?"
There were a few clicks.
"Keeping kind of late hours, aren't you, young fella?" Tony Angelo said with chuckle.
"Yeah. Can't sleep," Matt said. "You have a minute?"
"A friend of Mike's and mine named Sean Garrity was beaten up five days ago on Halsted not too far from Devon. Is that in your precinct?"
"Are you familiar with the case?"
"Yes. We were investigating it as an aggravated battery when Garrity died. Then the case automatically went to the Area Homicide detectives."
"So you're not responsible for the case anymore?"
"No, not really. What's going on, Matt?"
"Tony, I don't want this case to get lost in the system. I think Sean was gay bashed, and as you might expect, that doesn't sit well with me at all. I have some ideas that might help track down who did it. Who should I talk to about it?"
"I'm not sure who caught the case over at Area Homicide, but I can find out for you."
"That would be great if you'd do that for me. I have another idea, too, that might help close the case."
"I want to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who killed him."
"Hmmm. Well, I won't say it never works. Money makes the world go 'round, as they say. How big a reward are you thinking about?"
Tony whistled into the phone.
"You're not fooling around, are ya?" he said.
"Nope. Consider me one pissed off queer, Tony. I want whoever did this caught and put into the system. How do I go about getting the ball rolling?"
"Are you sure you want to do this, Matt? Sometimes you get so many off-the-wall tips from a big reward offer that it just muddies the waters."
"Unless you're telling me it just won't work, I'm pretty set on going ahead. Will you help me?"
"You have a pencil and paper?" he asked.
"I'm going to give you some names and phone numbers of people who do stuff like this, including the number for the head of the local Crime Stoppers chapter. The size of the reward is more than they usually offer for information, but if you're putting up the bucks, they may want to be involved. Ready?"
Tony gave Matt the names and numbers of a half dozen private investigators and agencies that might be willing to get involved, including the Crime Stoppers number.
"Thanks, Tony," Matt said. "I appreciate it. Will you get back to me with the name of the detective on Sean's case?"
"Yes. When's the best time to get you?"
"Come to think of it, why don't I call you? We know where you are all night, every night, Captain," Matt said with a laugh.
"Good." Tony cleared his throat. "Matt?"
"I didn't like where we left our last conversation. I'd like to talk to you some more about you and Mike and your relationship, if you'd have some time down the line."
"Sounds good to me, Tony. Would you and your wife come up for dinner sometime soon?"
"Uh, maybe just me. Marie doesn't know that you guys are gay yet. I need to get it all clear in my own mind before I talk to her about it."
"That's cool. Why don't I call back in a couple of days to get the name of the detective handling Sean's case, and we can set something up then. Meanwhile, I'll start with the information you gave me. Thanks, Tony. I appreciate it. Talk to you soon."
They broke the connection. Matt read over the list, and secreted it under a candlestick on the mantel to start on later. He went back to bed feeling that at least he was making some progress. He knew he also needed to talk to Mike about it, though, at some point. He slid quietly back into bed beside his softly snoring partner.
By the time Matt and Mike were up the next morning and threw on some clothes, Jeff had all his stuff piled in the foyer ready to load the elevator. Andie had stayed over again the previous night. She looked a little tired, and was trying hard not to show how she was feeling about Jeff's leaving. Matt and Mike pitched in, moved Jeff's collection to the garage, and soon they had his truck loaded, his stuff bungeed down in the truck bed, and covered with a tarp. Jeff was going to try to miss the morning rush hour traffic by getting an early start.
"Come on back up for a minute," Matt suggested to him. "Mary and Stan and Linda will want to say good-bye, and the boys will be mad if they don't see you before you go."
"No prob," Jeff said, putting his arm around Andie as they all stepped on the elevator.
Jeff went down to the kids' room alone, went in and shut the door. He emerged a little teary eyed about 10 minutes later with the memory of sleepy little boy kisses on his face. Mary was waiting in the foyer in her dressing gown when Jeff got back. Jeff enveloped her in a hug and kissed her cheek.
"You're gonna do great with your treatments, Mary," he said. "I'm gonna be back here pretty often, and I'll really be looking forward to seeing you. I'm glad you're here to give these two clowns"--he nodded at Matt and Mike--"the guidance they need. There has to be one adult on the premises. Besides Stan and Linda, I mean."
"Thank you, Jeff," Mary said, smiling. "I love you, and I'm going to miss you more than you know. Drive safely, and don't stay away too long."
Jeff put his arms around Stan and Linda, who had joined the send-off committee by then.
"You two, I'm gonna miss ya," Jeff told them, kissing Linda and exchanging a dap with Stan. "You let me know when you set a wedding date, and I'll here no matter what. It's more than cool that you're living here."
"Thanks, Jeff," Linda said in her calm way. "We'll let you know when the big day is. You're leaving a big gap in everybody's life here. I hope you know that. Thanks for letting us get to know you." Stan nodded in agreement.
"Thanks, guys," Jeff said.
Then, at last, Jeff, Matt and Mike had themselves a group hug, resting their heads together and shutting out the rest of the world for a minute.
"You two guys saved my freaking life," Jeff whispered to his brothers privately. "And that's no shit! I love you so much. Thanks for everything you've done for me. I'll see you soon, 'K?"
"We love you, too, bro. You're gonna be missed!" Matt said.
"If things get tense at school, I wanna hear from you," Mike admonished sternly, trying to hide his feelings.
"Yep," Jeff said.
"I'll ride down to the garage with you," Andie said to Jeff. She looked pretty down.
"Andie, come back up and have breakfast with us, will ya?" Mike asked.
"OK, thanks," she said, and she and Jeff got on the elevator and the doors closed.
They all headed for the kitchen except Matt, who went to the boys' room, got them out of bed and into the bathroom, and then put their little bathrobes and slippers on them. He took them to the kitchen, where Mike was cracking a dozen and a half eggs into a mixing bowl to make scrambled eggs. Matt took a pound of bacon out of the refrigerator, separated the strips, and put them on the grill of the stove. Shortly things began to smell good. Mary set the dining room table because they couldn't all fit comfortably around the kitchen table. Stan started to make toast as Linda filled glasses with orange juice. The kids prattled to one another as they waited impatiently in the dining room for the food to appear.
Andie joined them in the kitchen from the parking garage, her eyes looking red. Matt put his arms around her.
"Hon, I know this is tough, but if I know Jeff, he's gonna be showing up here at least twice a month looking to spend a lot of time with you," he told her. She smiled fleetingly, saying nothing, and went to sit down at the table with the boys after Matt released her.
They all had a good breakfast together. Andie began to look more cheerful and enter into the conversation. After breakfast, those on a tight schedule went off to take care of their morning ablutions and head out.
* * *
Sean's funeral was Saturday morning at St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in the northern suburbs, and Matt and Mike attended and were pallbearers. If Sean's father and brother were grief-stricken, they showed few signs of it, and of course his mother had been dead for some years. Mike had told Matt that Mr. Garrity had seemed more interested in getting the Boxster back from Mike than anything else.
The funeral mass was cold and formal, and the priest's homily dwelt on generalities and shared little that was personal about the deceased.
At graveside, Matt scanned the faces of the crowd. Except for expressions of sorrow on the faces of Sean's high school and college friends, no one seemed particularly devastated by his death. Just one more reason for Mike and me to be grateful for the love of wonderful parents and Jeff and Martha, Matt thought to himself as he placed his pallbearer's gloves on top of the casket. He made a mental note to ask Father Howard to offer an early morning requiem mass for Sean sometime during the next week so he and Mike could attend and say good-bye the way they wanted to.
* * *
Matt and Mike had been sporadically following newspaper and television accounts of the court trials of former Governor Bill Bradford and his minions in Connecticut for trying to frame Matt. Their trials had been severed. All the trials had started and ended at about the same time, however, with guilty verdicts coming down in all the cases for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, perjury and malfeasance.
Shortly after the verdicts were handed down, Matt received three separate requests for a victim impact statement from the judges handling the cases of Lt. Wolf, Col. Metzlaar and the Governor. He sat down with Mary and told her that he probably would not respond to the requests for statements relating to Wolf and Metzlaar, but that he would with respect to Bill Bradford. He asked her if she would have any problem if in stating the impact of the Governor's actions on his life, he also asked the judge to come down on the side of leniency for the Governor, given his distinguished service in the military during the Korean War and what had been an unblemished record of public service until he tried to frame Matt.
"I'm in favor of justice being done," he told her, "but sometimes it seems that all we want to do in this country is punish, punish, punish. He certainly deserves some sort of punishment, but will we really feel better if we ask the judge to send him away to die in jail? He's lost his office and his good name, and he's lost you. I just don't have it in my heart to be as vindictive as some people would probably like me to be, Mary."
"I agree with you, Matt, but maybe for different reasons. The more I've thought about everything that happened, I've concluded that Bill was probably of diminished capacity when he did what he did to you--most likely a series of little strokes or TIA's. His personality completely changed that last year, obviously not for the good. He had always been an honorable man who was sincerely devoted to public service. Trying to frame you and take Matthew and Michael away from you just wasn't like him at all. In all the years we were married, I had never heard a homophobic word out of his mouth until the point in his life when your partnership with Mike came up. So I think you're right about not being vindictive."
"Well, thanks for talking about it with me," Matt said. "I know you've been a victim, too, and I wanted to understand your feelings before I responded."
When Matt talked to Mike about it, the latter wasn't as inclined toward mercy for the Governor as Matt was, but told him it was completely up to him.
Matt made a beeline for his computer and knocked out the following letter on the word processor:
"The Hon. Judge Anson P. McConnell
The Superior Court of the State of Connecticut,
Criminal Division, Hartford District
"Dear Judge McConnell:
"I am responding to your recent letter soliciting my views on the impact
of former Governor William Bradford's criminal acts on my life.
"I must tell you, in all candor, that my experience with the criminal
system in being falsely accused of possessing cocaine with intent to
distribute was the nadir of my life. I was afraid not only for my own
reputation, but for that of my family, fearing that I would be unable to disprove
the tissue of lies spun by respected members of government and law
enforcement, and in particular, by the Governor of the state. I have concluded
that only my faith in God, and my belief that justice would ultimately triumph,
allowed me to emerge psychologically unscathed from that experience.
"Having said that, I believe that there are some mitigating factors
to the Governor's actions which Your Honor should consider in arriving at an
appropriate sentence. Although I appreciate the fact that what follows here
would normally be left to his attorney to introduce, I nevertheless offer the
following because the presence of these factors has indeed affected the man's
total impact on me:
"1. Governor Bradford served his country honorably as an officer
in the United
States Marine Corps during the Korean War, and was decorated by the Corps
with two Purple Hearts and the Navy Cross.
"2. The Governor served in numerous public offices before assuming
governorship of the state of Connecticut, and discharged his duties in an
exemplary manner prior to committing the acts for which he was charged
and is convicted.
"3. Having conferred with Mary Bradford, his wife, who is now
from Mr. Bradford, about the latter's physical and mental condition at the time he
set out to see me falsely imprisoned and take custody of my children, I have come
to believe it likely that the Governor was then of diminished mental capacity as
a result of minor strokes and TIA's (transient ischemic attacks) which he suffered
not long prior to taking the actions for which he was tried in court.
"In summary, although I cannot in conscience gloss over the negative
of Mr. Bradford's criminal acts on my life, neither can I ignore this man's record
of distinguished service to our country and to the people of the state of Connecticut,
nor the possibility that he was not in full possession of his mental faculties at the
time he committed the crimes for which he has been convicted.
"I respectfully add my opinion, Your Honor, that justice will be little
imprisoning a man of his advanced years for a protracted period of time.
"For these reasons, I ask Your Honor to show mercy on William Bradford
determining his sentence for crimes committed.
"Matthew J. Broman, Jr."
Matt asked Mike and Mary to read over the letter before he mailed it, and they all sat down together.
Mike arched an eyebrow and shook his head when he finished reading. Putting his arm around his partner, he said simply, "I love you, Matt; it's your call," and let it go at that.
"You're incredibly generous," Mary said when she finished reading the document. "You're a joy to me, Matt. I've always felt that way about you!"
Matt was a little embarrassed, but moved on quickly to another subject.
"Uh, while you're both here, can we talk for a minute about Kyle?" he asked.
Mike and Mary looked at him expectantly.
"Mary, since Jamie has left the matter of Kyle's adoption largely in your hands, would you consider letting Mike adopt him instead of me?"
"I wouldn't have any problem with that," Mary said, a little surprised. "But may I ask why?"
"I'm trying to plan for the future. You know I truly love Kyle as if he were my own son. But it's occurred to me that if something were to happen to me, it would be easier for Mike to obtain custody of Matthew and Michael if he had a successful track record in raising Kyle. As a practical matter, we're both going to be raising the three kids together as a family, you know that. But gay couples, especially, have to cover all the bases in matters like this."
"I see your point, Matt, and I agree," Mary said. "Mike, is this something you would want to do?"
"Absolutely. All three of these boys mean the world to me. I love Kyle very much, and I'd be very grateful if you'd let me take legal custody of him."
"Well, it's settled, then," Mary said.
"Let's 'Make it so!' as Captain Picard would say," Matt grinned.
* * *
David Howard looked up from his desk with a big smile for Matt and Mike, having reviewed the compatibility tests he'd just administered to them.
"Guys, you're obviously really, really good together, and good for each other. Unless you want to continue our talks for some reason, blessing your partnership is a 'go' as far as I'm concerned. When do you want to do it?"
Matt and Mike looked at each other, a little surprised by the swiftness of the priest's decision.
"Well, before Advent starts, for sure," Matt said, looking at his brother. "How about the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving? Then the whole family can be here. Mike?"
"Perfect," Mike said with a big smile. "I wasn't sure this was really gonna happen," he added happily. "Is that good for your schedule, Father?"
"It'll work," the priest said after consulting his calendar.
"What about Fr. Rohm and the Bishop?" Matt asked. "Is there going to be a problem with them?"
"Just call me 'the problem solver,'" Fr. Howard said. "I give you my word I'm going to get this done for you. It's the Church's job to identify what's holy in everyday life, officially recognize it and offer it back to God. And that's what we're going to do. What you two have is whole and holy, and it's going to be recognized and offered back to the Lord. Period. Now let's look at a few details for the service. Tell me what you want."
Mike started to ask Fr. Howard about the effect of this on him, personally, if he officiated, but the priest raised his hand to cut him off, and Mike subsided.
Fr. Howard pulled out a yellow legal pad to make notes as Matt and Mike began to talk about their preferences for the service.
The next morning, the young priest waited until Fr. Rohm had offered mass and gone back to his office for that all-important first cup of coffee before he wandered down the office corridor and knocked on his door.
"'Morning, Curt," David said to his boss, who waved him into the office.
The Very Rev. Curtis Pennington Rohm, at age 52, looked like a recruiter poster for the priesthood. Gray hair that capped a handsome, slightly weathered, clean-shaven face with a strong jaw all said to anyone who met him that he was someone to be reckoned with. He was tall, slightly over 6 feet, and had a football player's body. Sitting at his desk, he was wearing a clerical collar under a beautifully tailored cassock which was piped in red to signify that he was Dean of the Central Chicago Deanery. He was sipping coffee as he went over his schedule for the day.
Everyone said Fr. Rohm had bishop-potential. Somewhere, sometime down the line, there was a cathedra in his future. He was a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago, earned in his younger years, and he currently served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern and at the Episcopal seminary on Northwestern's Evanston campus along with being rector of one of the Chicago diocese's largest and most important parishes and dean of his deanery. He had authored several books, the latest one on pastoral theology which suggested some new views and techniques in the field.
Rohm was an excellent manager, and St. Stephen's ran like a well oiled machine under his guidance and that of his three curates, of whom David Howard was the youngest and most promising. St. Stephen's was a theologically conservative, traditional parish, which was Fr. Rohm's own position within the Church's diverse theological spectrum. But he had one quirk that saved him from being a clerical naysayer to almost every innovation of modern life like some of his like-minded clerical friends--he was a pastor through and through. When the world was in pain, and sadly enough that was most of the time, he was determined to find ways to assuage that pain by ministering to people in a meaningful way. And if that meant questioning and modifying some of the Church's stances on key issues, so be it. A family man, Fr. Rohm was married with three children currently in graduate school. His wife was a full professor at the University of Chicago's business school.
The man even made a statement about his conservative views through the suits he put on every time he dressed in the morning. Long after many clergymen and clergywomen in the Church had abandoned their black clothing for every color in the rainbow, Fr. Rohm wore suits as black as a Jesuit's heart, and nothing but black. He made sure his curates did so as well. "Black is not only beautiful," he had told them once, "it says you're serious."
David Howard admired Curtis Rohm without reservation, and Rohm returned his regard in full measure.
"Come in, David," the older priest said. "Get yourself some coffee."
The young priest opened the sliding door to a small, hole-in-the-wall kitchen, poured himself some coffee, and sat down in front of the Rector's desk.
"I've come to give you some more gray hair," he said to his mentor.
"Hmmm. So what else is new?" Fr. Rohm asked, smiling.
"You probably remember referring two young, gay men who wanted to have their partnership blessed to me for counseling some months back."
"We've been having regular sessions for a while now, and their situation is pretty interesting. Matt is a cradle Episcopalian, a widower with two small children who's in his last year at the Northwestern Law School. Mike was raised Roman Catholic, never married. He's in his third year of Med School, also at Northwestern. He's been attending services here at St. Stephen's for some time now, even when he and Matt were apart for a time.
"There's an interesting wrinkle to this," David Howard continued. "These guys are adoptive brothers who were roommates in college out east. They had their partnership registered in Vermont earlier this Summer. Their surname is Broman. Does that ring any bells for you?"
"The Supreme Court justice!" Rohm exclaimed.
"Oh, yeah! But that's not all. Mike's surname, before he was adopted, was Berman. His dad was Andrew Berman of Berman Worldwide Engineering, who was killed with his whole family, except for Mike, in a plane crash."
"I remember that. Well, they're obviously rich and well connected, then, is that right?" the older priest asked.
"Have you reached a decision on the matter?"
"Don't take this the wrong way," Fr. Rohm said, "but was your decision at all affected by who they are?"
"Not at all."
"Tell me more."
"I went through every step of the counseling process that we go through for heterosexual couples, including looking at their basic compatibility. My conclusion is that this is the real deal. These guys are highly intelligent, highly educated, very articulate young men. I have to tell you, I'm very moved by their love for one another. I kept reflecting on what they'd said to me for several days after each time we met, and I was still moved. They're real partners, of that I have no doubt. Long story short, I want to bless this relationship in church. They want it done at the high altar with a full nuptial mass, not sub rosa, and I agree with that, too. They want to do it the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and the morning calendar is clear for that day."
"What do you need from me?"
"Some dialog about this, I guess. Some reassurance that I'm not way off base," Fr. Howard said.
"I know you've thought this out, and you know there's going to be fallout over it," the older priest said. "Some of the priests we're tightest with and most theologically compatible with are really going to be pissed off. Are you prepared to lose some friends?"
"Do I have a choice? This is the right thing to do."
"We always have choices, Father."
"I, we, have to do the right thing, Curt. These two guys are good, Christian men. They love the Lord, just like you and I do. There's only one way to go on this, in my opinion, and that's to get on with it and let the chips fall where they may."
The older priest silently studied the young man across the desk from him for some time. David Howard looked him back right in the eye.
"Schedule it," Fr. Rohm finally said. "And do it up right."
David continued to sit there, looking at Fr. Rohm.
"What?" Fr. Rohm asked.
"What about Bishop Hewitt?" David asked.
"What about him?"
"What's he going to say?"
"I don't know. We won't know until after you bless the partnership, will we?"
"You're not going to tell him beforehand?"
"No. It'll come up later when I make my semi-annual pilgrimage to the diocesan offices, if not sooner."
"Are you going to get a lot of flack from the Vestry?"
"I don't know that, either. I'll listen to whatever comments they have to make with the greatest respect, as always. But as Rector, it's my call, and I just made it."
"I know I said we have to let the chips fall where they may, but I'm...well, apprehensive."
"Listen, David, somebody needs to tell our respected conservative theologians to put on their thinking caps and develop some supportive theology for same-sex marriages. The liberals in the Church just substitute sociology for theology, and do what they damn well please in matters like this with no remorse or second thoughts. You and I are not of that mind, but we have a duty to minister to our people, nevertheless. To date, our Anglican theologians are too busy fighting about non-essentials to get the job done. The Roman Catholic theologians have the horsepower to do it, but this pope won't let them. I respect them for their spirituality, but the Eastern Orthodox haven't had an original thought for some centuries now, and I'm not trying to be unkind. I want you to consider your decision about the Bromans, which I back fully, to be a wake-up call for all concerned that good, solid churchmen like us, who respect tradition, are not going to wait forever for them to get off their butts and use their talents for the good of humankind and the whole Church. I don't want them to tell me why we can't do these things. I want them to tell me why we can. The parish is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and we need to get on with ministering to life as it's being lived out there among our people. So let's get on with it, already."
"You amaze me sometimes."
The older priest laughed.
"Sometimes I amaze myself. Anything else?"
David stood up and went back to his office, smiling.
That evening about 9 p.m., the priest telephoned Matt and Mike at home and made sure each of them was on a phone extension.
"The Saturday after Thanksgiving is a lock, guys!" he said. "Fr. Rohm is on board, and I'm really looking forward to this. Can we schedule a rehearsal for the Friday night before?"
"Absolutely!" Mike said exuberantly.
"Mike and I are very grateful to you, Father. You can't imagine what this means to us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts," Matt said.
"Yes, I can imagine what this means to you. And I'm happy that I can be a part of it," Fr. Howard said.
"Father, we'd like to invite you to come to dinner here, soon, if that isn't inappropriate," Mike said. "Maybe we can put our heads together on the vows we'd like to use and stuff."
"I'd enjoy that," David Howard said.
"Let's set a date right now," Matt suggested.
"What about a week from this Sunday?" the priest suggested. "I'm off on Mondays, so I wouldn't have to run off super early so I could get out of bed for an early mass the next morning."
"Excellent," Matt said. He gave the priest their address, and after thanking the man again, they hung up.
Matt ran from den, where he had been studying, back to his and Mike's bedroom. Bursting into the room, he grabbed Mike up from his desk, deposited him on the bed and lay down on top of him. He held his face and looked into his eyes.
"Mikey! This wedding is really gonna happen! I'm so pumped, I can't stand it!"
"Me, too, dude. But if you don't let me breathe, there won't be any wedding."
"Seeing you this happy makes me feel good, Matt," Mike said softly. "You're the most beautiful person in the world to me, and I only wish I could find a new way to tell you how much I love you."
"Oh, I think you know all the important ways already, bro. Can I make a date with you for, oh, let's say 11 o'clock tonight? I can't stop studying right now, but I need your bod. Real bad."
Mike shoved his hand between them and gently groped his partner's crotch through his Levis, discovering Matt had a stiffie already.
"OK, film at 11," he laughed. "You sure you can wait 'til then?"
"With reluctance and a certain amount of discomfort, yeah," Matt said.
"OK," Mike laughed again.
"But while you're a prisoner of love here, I think you need a joke."
"No, I don't!" Mike said, beginning to struggle.
"Forget the thrashing around, swimmer boy, and just take it like a man."
"I thought that was later," Mike said, smiling.
"Then, too. Ready?"
"Yeah, I guess." Mike closed his eyes and scrunched up his face.
"A woman walks into a shop that sells expensive Persian rugs.
around and spots the perfect rug and walks over to inspect it. As she bends
over to feel the texture of the rug, she accidentally breaks wind. Very embarrassed,
she looks around nervously to see if anyone has noticed her little faux pas.
"She turns and sees a salesman is standing right next to her.
"'Good day M'am. How may I help you today?'
"Very uncomfortable about having passed gas so loudly, she asks, 'Sir,
much does this rug cost?'
"He answers, 'Lady, you farted just touching it. You're gonna shit when
"Did you like that?" Matt demanded.
Mike squeezed out an obnoxiously loud fart into the bedspread.
"It was great," he said, "and that was my way of saying thanks."
"That wasn't very appropriate, you know."
"Given your story, I thought it was very appropriate."
"The wedding's off!" Matt said.
Mike rolled them over with himself on top, catching Matt by surprise.
"I don't think the wedding's off," Mike said, looking down at his brother. "And handcuffs will be a prominent part of the service so I'll always know where to find ya."
"Kinky, dude! You're my kinda man, fer sure."
They nuzzled each other for a few minutes, and then broke it off before things went too far and they wouldn't be able to get back to studying. Disguising his own erection by remaining seated on the bed, Mike laughed and pointed at Matt as he walked out of the room with a big stiffie tenting his pants.
"I'll make you cry later for dissing me like this," Matt promised as he walked away.
He stopped briefly in the kids' room on the way back to the den. The three boys were sleeping soundly in their beds. Kyle was a restless sleeper, though, and had kicked his blanket off for the umpteenth time. Matt covered him again gently, and bending down, kissed the little boy's head. The youngster stirred, but didn't wake up.
Then it was back to the law books. He smiled several times as he found he was glancing at his watch every few minutes, looking forward to 11 o'clock when he could return to the bedroom to make love to Mike.
When the time arrived at last, Matt closed and stacked the books he had been using, and put his notebooks by the door of the den so he wouldn't forget them the next time he went to class. He went into the kitchen, poured and drank a glass of cold water from the refrigerator tap, and then popped into the utility room and fired up the washing machine with yet another load of the kids' dirty clothes.
All was silent throughout the condo as he finally made his way back to their bedroom. He paused quietly in the doorway and studied his beloved Mike, still seated at his desk reading, a pair of cheap, drugstore half-glasses perched on the end of his nose. Matt was suffused with a love that only seemed to grow more intense the longer he and his brother were together. Mike studied on, seemingly oblivious, as Matt stood there, re-engraving his partner's beautiful profile on his memory. The vision of Mike, so captured, was the fuel that released much of the energy in his own life, Matt knew. Mike's big hands, with their broad, sturdy fingers, clutched his medical text as the young man worked away at mastering what he would need to know in order to excel at his chosen work.
Entering the room, Matt went to Mike wordlessly and stood behind his chair, reaching out to place his hands on the sides of his face as he bent down and kissed the top of his bristly blond head. He filled his lungs with the clean, masculine smell emanating from his partner's hair.
Tilting his head back, Mike smiled up at his brother.
"I knew you were here."
"Yeah. Sometimes, deep down, I know right where you are even when I don't see you or hear you."
Matt's arms encircled Mike's chest from behind.
"Did you get a lot done tonight?" he asked.
"Yep," Mike said. "Now I'm only two days behind instead of three."
"Do you need to study some more?"
"Yeah. But I'm not gonna. A date's a date, y'know."
Mike closed his book and removed his glasses, folding them carefully and putting them down on the desk. Standing, he turned around and embraced Matt, cheek to cheek. Sliding one hand up behind Matt's neck, he kissed him very gently on his nose and then his lips.
Matt sighed and held Mike. They must have stood there in the deep silence holding one another for several minutes, each feeling the other's heart beating.
"'Cor ad cor loquitur,'" Matt said softly.
"'Cor ad cor loquitur.' 'Heart speaketh unto heart.' It was the motto on John Henry Newman's crest after he left the Anglican Church and eventually became a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church back in the nineteenth century."
"'Heart speaketh unto heart,'" Mike repeated. "That sounds about right to me."
Taking Matt's hand, he walked him over to the bed and they began to
strip each other very slowly and deliberately. When they were totally,
beautifully naked, Mike turned down the bed and they lay down in it together.
I want the Working It Out readers to know how much I appreciate your readership and the many positive emails I've received about this story over these many months. The characters and their struggles continue to intrigue me, and I'm enjoying the writing of it just as much as I hope you're enjoying the reading. I know that the intervals between postings are much too long, but I hope you'll continue to bear with me. I know, too, that the very length of this story by now can be a deterrent to new readers, but I guess there's nothing to be done about that. Some of the issues raised in Working It Out are important, I think, for gay and straight people alike to consider as we attempt to nudge our society into more tolerance and understanding of homosexuality. The sex in fiction like this is important because sex is important, in all its aspects. But so are the underlying issues that affect us all when we aren't lucky enough to be in bed with someone we love or alone with our own right hand (no disrespect intended to Lefties!). I've tried to strike a balance between the sex and the issues.
Thank you to Nifty for providing a forum for such a wide variety of gay literature, and to David the Archivist for his patient, hard work. "Remember, it's a rainbow out there!" firstname.lastname@example.org .